ICONS OF OUR TIME
NAME: The American Sailor.
AGE: Twenty-something, even if the moustache has a strangely adolescent look to it.
NATIONALITY: Duh! ANCIENT HISTORY: Although the relationship between the US Navy and Hong Kong goes way back, the American sailor is always associated with the Suzie Wong Wan Chai years. Thanks to the Vietnam war, Wan Chai exploded into life, supplying soldiers and sailors on R&R with an outlet for their urges, expat businessmen with an alternative to nights at the club contemplating adultery with the wife of a tennis partner and paperback writers with a host of cliches.
Almost nightly, the American sailor could be seen treading that well-worn path from HMS Tamar to Lockhart Road, cash in pocket, glint in eye and Military Police not far behind. A legend was born.
MODERN HISTORY: As with much of Hong Kong, the world of Suzie Wong is but a distant memory. Bars which once boasted topless waitresses from Mongkok now contain swimsuited ladies from Bangkok in noisy leather boots. Lan Kwai Fong and other areas provide alternatives to discos in which house bands attempt to recreate techno numbers as domestic helpers dance the night away on a single fruit punch.
Our hero has changed, too. He is no longer involved in bar brawls (ever since the British soldiers left, fights have become far less frequent) and the Military Police hardly have their work cut out for them. Hell, he doesn't even spend that much time in Wan Chai any more.
STOMPING GROUND: These days, he's more likely to be found wandering around an MTR station concourse asking for directions. And even when he ventures into the Neptune for a dance, he's laid-back. That's not to say he doesn't stand out. With his homeboy gear, chains and attitude, he is, to quote Raymond Chandler, about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.
MANNERS: Far better than those he encounters here. Perhaps surprisingly, given his size and reputation, the American sailor usually comes across as a real gent. Ladies are always Ma'am and most blokes are Sir.
Nowadays, the real horror stories of Wan Chai involve young men who also have shaven heads and wear sports shoes. The only difference is that they speak with English accents, prefer popping pills to sinking Budweisers and claim to be stockbrokers or construction workers. Yes, there's a new breed of white trash in town. In fact, you're more likely to see fights involving Arsenal fans (and even players) than you are American sailors.
NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH: Characters like those in the dance hall scene in the movie, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. You know, the sailors who try to chat up the local gals and then get a good kicking from Brucie.
FAVOURITE PLACES: Pattaya and Bangkok, places where your dollar goes a lot further and girlie bars really are girlie bars.