The Royal Geographical Society’s Everest Diamond Jubilee Gala Dinner, with lecture by Stephen Venables, hero of the first ascent of Mount Everest by its Kangshung Face from Tibet in 1988, was a splendid affair. Apart from the appropriately arctic air-conditioning it was most enjoyable. But it’s always freezing in there, must be something to do with sweaty chaps needing to cool off quickly.
On arrival someone matched guests’ names on a huge sheet containing every attendee and pointed to the correct table. With this comprehensive manifest, it meant no one could slip through the net, chuckled an RGS member. Surely he was not suggesting people might try to sneak in uninvited?
Grinning broadly, he said the RGS had decided to tighten up a bit, after what happened at a famous British university society dinner. We were agog – what had taken place? It seems that after the Society dinner in question, the tally for meals served totalled five more than the sign-ups. They checked again – no, five unaccounted-for meals had been consumed. Then someone remembered a bunch of “alumni” from Guangzhou, who turned up, incorrectly attired.
They said they had not realised there was a dress code, and disappeared, returning from the hire shop with the right clobber a short time later. They had a great time. No one recognised them, but assumed they were graduates from a different era. It was only afterwards that the truth dawned – these cheeky chaps were gate crashers. They must have read about it online and decided to try their luck.
Brass neck needed
This makes you realise that with a bit of determination, chutzpah and a good fancy dress box, it’s quite easy to get past what is often very lax security in Hong Kong. This can have tragic consequences, as in the case of the female staff member at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club a few years back. She was found murdered in her office one night while the club was hosting five concurrent parties. With all the comings and goings, no one noticed anything suspicious.
Generally, if you have the brass neck and inclination to do it, gate-crashing big flashy events, especially those in hotels, is child’s play. Pick a busy night, with several events going on at the same time, preferably weddings. Dress appropriately. Carry what looks like a nicely wrapped present, if you are taking this seriously.
Weddings are a doddle. Note the names of bride and groom. Once everyone’s seated, pick a table with several spaces. Work out which “side” your table is and whatever question you are asked, say you are friends with the other side. Even if the bride and groom will assume you were invited by their mother-in-law. If asked, you are either a distant cousin or a friend from college, both are safe. You can attend two or three wedding receptions and no one will notice.
If caught, just say “Oops! Sorry, I’m accidentally at the wrong party! My mistake.” I’ve done in unintentionally back in Ireland. It’s especially easy here, if the couple are well-to-do, because their society guests will have multiple functions and will only stay long enough to hand over red packets and drink one toast anyway. Spare banquet seats are guaranteed.
At any event, remember that most security guards defer to anyone who stands up straight and looks like they know where they are going. My father never gate-crashed anything, but no one ever checked his credentials either, no matter whether it was the paddock at Cheltenham Races or the inner sanctum at Christie’s. He rarely made a restaurant reservation either, always saying we would get a table. And we always did. He was tall and looked authoritative. That’s the message if you plan to go somewhere you are not invited.
If you arrive at a big cocktail party – always go for big events – strike up a conversation with someone of the opposite sex as you walk in and keep talking until you are well inside. If there’s a table with a name card tray, wait till the attendants are busy, nonchalantly toss a business card down, pretend to quickly scan the name tags and seize one, then aim for the centre of the crowd, grabbing a drink from the first waiter you see. Don’t stop and don’t hesitate.
It does not have to be your card. I’ve often handed over other people’s cards by mistake, they rarely check. It’s the same with getting a table in a busy restaurant. In Hong Kong, if you ask politely, the answer is all too often no, unless you are important, or eat there often. But if you march up to the maitre’d and announce that your secretary booked, mumble a name and wait, he or she will study the list.
Your name does not show up because it is not there, so you act exasperated, look over his or her shoulder, and point to a name with the correct number of people booked for about half an hour’s time. To the question: “Are you the Wongs for two?” Say yes, firmly. Make sure you’ve brought cash, strictly no credit cards for this.
When the real Wongs or Smiths turn up, you just smile and say ah that’s how the confusion arose, your secretary has the same name, whatever it is. But chances are the restaurant staff won’t want to make a fuss and will just squeeze in the real Wongs or Smiths somewhere else. Most restaurants keep one spare table in case of tycoons or celebrity walk-ins, so they won’t go hungry.
Now I am not recommending these dreadful antics, but I’ve observed that all this is remarkably easy in Hong Kong. You just need to look and act the part to carry it off.