Executives' playground

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 August, 2011, 12:00am


As we continue our odyssey of Hong Kong's office districts, let us look to Wan Chai where many an executive seeks a restorative beverage or meal at the end of a day.

Wan Chai may be less well-endowed with green space than other parts of Hong Kong - although the small park next to the Grand Hyatt contains some arresting modern sculpture - but it does host some charismatic recreation areas. Southorn Playground, next to the MTR station, has graduated from being an al fresco night club to a well-patronised sports ground, and plans are in hand for a redesign to make the area more appealing to the public. Similarly, the Wan Chai Sports Ground - site of many a local school's athletics competitions - is being absorbed by the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. However, the new construction will include compensatory sports facilities.

Not least of Wan Chai's attributes is its status as a transport hub. The tram and MTR lines run east-west through the district, while the Star Ferry putters across the harbour to Tsim Sha Tsui.

Drinking and dining are not the only forms of nocturnal culture in this part of town. At the Academy for Performing Arts, international and local productions play to packed houses, while just a short walk away the Hong Kong Arts Centre hosts films, theatre and exhibitions.

The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre stages not simply trade fairs and similar commercial ventures, but also concerts by some of the world's best-known performers. The centre was completed in the summer of 1997, to host the handover ceremony when China resumed sovereignty of Hong Kong from Britain.

Literature is also given a vent in Wan Chai. Fledgling authors are told to 'write about what you know' and Briton Richard Mason - who penned Wan Chai's best-known literary work The World of Suzie Wong - did just that. Having fallen in love with his Japanese teacher, he wrote The Wind Cannot Read, about a Briton falling in love with his Japanese teacher. Taking a few months holiday in 1955, he pitched up in Hong Kong, checked into a cheap hotel in Wan Chai, went down to the bar for a drink, and the rest is history.

Mason had to do little research other than sit and take notes over a beer, and the resulting tale of the eponymous bargirl with a heart of gold - published in 1957 - was an instant bestseller. Subsequently filmed starring William Holden and Nancy Kwan, Suzie Wong was for many years Wan Chai's public face.

Wan Chai's bar scene is very different nowadays. While there are still some slightly dubious joints, the emphasis now is very much on upmarket drinking spots and happening clubs.