Groping in the park
By STUART WOLFENDALE
A FRIEND of mine has just finished marking A-level English Literature examination papers. They feature Hongkong students' views on the set text, D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers - a definite hostage to critical fortune in this sexual climate, as my friend discovered.
Apart from learning from several candidates that Lawrence must have been a good Buddhist, my newcomer friend rapidly came to understand the conservatism of local society.
''They were very strong on the family themes and hopeless on the sexual ones,'' he said. ''According to one blithe candidate, Lawrence's character Paul, mired in an oedipal relationship with his mother, was a dutiful son for deserting her to get married.'' So, it comes as a surprise to see this recent bush fire of protest to the press against increasingly explicit love-making among young couples in public places. Are the youth of Hongkong becoming stronger and more abandoned on the sexual themes as the 1997 finale approaches or are the moralist watchdogs, anticipating the embrace of the motherland, tightening the twist in their knickers? Social circumstances dictate that ''courting'' Hongkong couples must, in public and often close to high intensity lighting, skirt the edges of ecstasy without dislodging so much as a blouse button.
To get there, a lot is invested in intense kissing techniques which, in my younger years, were described as ''snogging''.
Hongkong snogging has always been flamboyant. Only last week, on an Outer Islands ferry, a young teenage couple stood in the bow section, by a window, ostentatiously apart from everyone else with the wind slip-streaming their hair, excavating each other's tonsils.
It was exotic more than erotic, but difficult to tell if it was done in a mood of open defiance or private oblivion.
Starched critics are claiming the customary bad influences on children. Any child watching that couple would certainly be a neck ahead in the snogging stakes when its time comes.
Sex explains much of the popularity of country parks and remote bays at weekends.
I asked the Eurasian teenage son of a friend where young people went to snog in town.
''It depends if they are expat or Westernised kids,'' he said. ''If they are, they just wait for their parents to go out and then get down to it. If they are local Chinese, they have to go outside. This makes them terribly slow at everything. They could have the partners of their dreams and they will still go out with them for five years. Expats get married in six months.'' Ten points to the local Chinese.
''If you want to know where they go,'' he said, ''go look in any park, there are three couples to every bench.'' So I went to Victoria Park, between downpours at around 10 pm on Tuesday.
The seats on the main pathway by the sports grounds are the territory of disputive groups of old men. Snoggers snuggle on the darker, shorter paths behind the tennis courts towards the highway fence.
Alternating between purposeful strides and self-absorbed saunters, I snooped in the quarter light.
My first discovery found the girl sitting with her knees together, lips pursed and expectant, while he worked around her from the side like a sculptor with a recalcitrant lump of marble.
On the next bench, art had taken complete control. The young man was in a semi-recline, his umbrella lying at a casual angle from him. She lay across his waist. It was Gainsborough in the dark.
The tone tumbled as I moved along. One girl, sat upright, had her man stretched out across her knees doing a good imitation of taking a nap. She seemed to be taking her inspiration from the distant traffic.
Across the path, exploring each other's dentures were two expats; an unconscionable waste of space, unless they were conducting a desperate extra-marital affair.
Closer to the tennis courts was the physics section. One man was trying to balance his considerably larger lady on one leg in a lustful parody of the ventriloquist and his dummy.
Another pair were huddled together, the skinny male with a nervous smile intent on prodding ''her'' shoulder and tugging at her fingers.
''Now, if I pull this one, will you let out a tinkling peal of laughter?'' Another Romeo was laying out newspaper the length of a damp bench in between corny yawns. Juliet sat waiting, rolling her eyes heavenwards.
Away by the road fence, a very young man had his belle full out across his legs in total surrender. It was perhaps for the best, under the circumstances, that he did not seem to know how to take it.
I wanted to ask the snoggers why they went there and how they felt about it. But, a large foreigner, suddenly blocking out the moon and asking young lovers to reveal such things is a recipe for screams in the bushes and the appearance of a big friendly policeman.
A more plausible Chinese colleague asked for me.
Force of circumstance draws them to the outdoors. Small flats in public housing estates with screaming siblings and Enjoy Yourself Tonight does not nurture romance.
Snoggers object to being told they should go to bars and nightclubs. When you spend all day in a stressful situation at work, the last thing you want to do is go to a noisy bar or disco, retorted one.
They are anyway compelled to be together much of the time in cinemas, coffee shops or shopping.
Their main concern in the parks is to find a secluded place.
''Sometimes all the nice places get taken early and you end up with one available slot under the lamppost,'' one young lover said.
There is also a hazard. ''Sometimes you get perverts peeping at you.'' Like journalists? The pure weight of loving-couple numbers does give each couple a certain privacy through anonymity.
''Parks are quite free and friendly,'' one girl thought.
Not the Kowloon waterfront promenade though, if one caller to the newspapers last week has her way.
She wanted snogging on the waterfront suppressed. She couldn't walk her children there for fear of the groping couples, forgetting how the children came to pass in the first place.
I shot across the water the following night to snog-watch.
The Kowloon waterfront must be one of the world's most dramatic and generous waterside promenades, to which the buildings along it only show their backs and air-con extruders.
I had never walked its length before and I was disappointed only in the lack of snogging and sensual display.
The promenade is far too open and illuminated for back-arching explorations of the oesophagus or brave hand darts up the skirt.
The section in front of the Cultural Centre has most seating on two decks, which probably leads to trouble - but lamentably little of it. There was the occassional sound of heavy lip suction but not even a rustle of crinoline.
They all seem neutered by the view.
The stretch in front of The Regent hotel, which stands moated against lust, is the most elegant but is quite without seats.
Snogging there is of the stand-up variety and the true gentleman is the one who takes the position of discomfort against the stainless steel rail.
An alternative is for the couple to wedge themselves in the cosy triangle of space between the rail and the angled lip of the harbour wall. This is an ideal posture in which to contemplate the view and possibly God but not mess about with each other's bodies.
One young couple managed a little, so placed. She half stood in front of him and lay on him at the angle, pulling his arms round her and laying his hands on her upper thigh. He kept taking them away and she kept pulling them back again, the delightful little hussy.
This was still continuing on my return walk. They do take a long time.
And that, apart from conferences of Sikhs and the odd gathering of bad boys with their shirts off, was that.
There is one cul de sac of seating in deep darkness between The Regent and the New World Centre where a flicker of snoggers could be seen.
I tramped down there pretending to be losing my way. I saw one young woman with her legs round her man's waist as though in a dance routine to Ravel's Bolero - but fully clothed. There was nothing there to make a horse whinny.
In truth, you find sexual explicitness when you least expect it.
In broad daylight, last week, I turned the corner of my street to find a man stretched out on the fully reclined driver's seat of a parked Daihatsu Charade.
Over him crawled a woman, her skirt high up her thigh, her hair fallen in abandon, her face in his chest as though sniffing for truffles.
I stopped in surprise. He merely closed his eyes to block me out. I moved along. She sniffed on.
Another letter to the paper last week claimed that students were getting it together in the study rooms of public libraries. We will have to leave that to the imagination. I am not that heavy a reader.