Saturday, May 22, 2010

Of Goldschlager, and airport construction

Last night I sat on a rooftop in Wan Chai, drinking a poor man's version of Goldschlager.

I'm not sure why there needs to be a poor man's version of Goldschlager. I'm not sure why there needs to be Goldschlager. Surely in a world with as much pain, suffering and evil as there is, can there really be room for a cinnamon flavoured schnapps with flakes of gold floating around in it?

Perhaps the drink is a metaphor for life. I'm not sure how, unless your life consisted of clear fluids that made the back of your throat burn and your stomach somersault, while what was left of your conscious mind worried what exactly is that gold stuff made from? But I've never been that great at metaphors.

For me, a metaphor is like1 a bird of paradise: strangely beautiful, but rarely found in a healthy state in Hong Kong.

We were on the rooftop after enjoying a traditional Dutch meal of frikandel. Well, I say enjoying it; everyone else liked chewing on deep fried minced beef hotdogs. I was just pounding down Bavaria beer and eating French fries. Which is as Dutch as I could get.2

Up on the roof, Hong Kong was beautiful. You could see right down the harbour to Tin Hau, and Central in the other direction. There was also a clear view over to Kowloon. Ok, it was sandwiched between two skyscrapers, but that's as clear as things get in Hong Kong. Twelve floors up, the traffic was quiet and the lighting concealed around the rooftop made it feel as though we were all in a film about successful yuppies. Who liked sitting on the top of a building and drinking ersatz Goldschlager.

For some reason, I got a history lesson on the building of Chep Lap Kok, our Norman Foster-designed airport, out on Lantau. Apparently, after 1948 and the British Government plundering India, they'd been told off for removing all the swag, doing the same in 1997 wasn't going to be a goer. But since there was a mound of money to extract from Hong Kong before the Chinese took the colony back, the new airport was conceived as a massive hole into which money could be poured. It wouldn't matter how much it cost to build, because anything left over would be going to the Chinese anyway. More to the point, if it was British companies doing the overcharging, that was extra taxes somebody could be collecting in London.

So like somebody going mental at an all-you-can-eat buffet, dollar after dollar was crammed into the new airport project. Which was good for the British Treasury, and I can't complain, because some of those taxes probably went some way to shoring up the education system I benefitted from.

Plus, Hong Kong International is a very nice airport, so that turned out nicely. I wonder if secretly the UK is going to be handed over to somebody, and that's why they spent so much money on the airport there.

Actually, that seems fairly unlikely, at least because I've travelled to Heathrow, and that's one of the reasons I avoid going to London more than I have to.

I'm not sure whether this is the true story of How The Airport Got Its Cash. I suppose I could write to Chris Patten and ask. The implausibility inherent in the story was that its narrator suggested the high cost of land reclamation required at Chep Lap Kok was a key motivator, and otherwise it could have been built much more conveniently somewhere like Mong Kok.

Like Mong Kok. Mong Kok. Really?

Well, it would be true for values of "convenience" that include "handy for stinky tofu" and "good for terrifying passengers by occasionally clipping the tops of roofs".

But if that was all, you could just as well bung it in Wan Chai, and get some fried beef hot dogs and cutprice Goldschlager into the bargain. Who's fooling who?

1 Yes, I know that's a simile. I did just say that I've never been that great at metaphors.
2 Just to further confuse matters, Bavaria beer is from Holland. I'm fairly sure that was done on purpose to confuse.


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