PARTNERED by a designer period hat stand that I lifted lyrically from the entrance lobby, fuelled better than a Caltex station by a champagne and cold cuts breakfast, I waltzed my way this morning across the 3,000 sq ft penthouse suite in the Mansion Kempinski in Bangkok and wondered why it is we are all supposed to bate our breath at the mention of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a rip off. I did try to be objective coming to this modest conclusion. I went to my panoramic window in the sitting room overlooking this City of Angles and watched rain clouds moving like a brigade of guards from the north-east, making a good imitation of liquid soot. They were readying themselves to render major city arteries impassible. Despite media hysteria over a few puddles of water and some perfectly predictable deaths through outrageously bad driving in the rain, that does not happen in Hong Kong. In all fairness too, I remembered my car journey from Raymond the night before which involved a sensible 21/2 hours on the highway and an insane, static 21/2 hours inside greater Bangkok. The driver, who had been walloping down litre bottles of beer with me in the front seat, realised what dreadful damage would be done to his seat upholstery if he did not cut across three lanes of traffic and deliver me to a men's toilet at the back of a petrol station. No traffic configuration so drastic comes about in Hong Kong that a gentleman has to cross his legs and bite his lip for over half an hour waiting for one traffic light to change. So, the drains work in Hong Kong. Big deal. What a tax price we pay for it and you can safely wager that they will not be working beyond a neglected six-month maintenance cycle after the British leave. Beyond experiencing Asia's finest public works system and getting a vicarious immoral thrill over some sensationally fast and shonky business dealings behind dark plate glass skyscrapers, what is there of interest to be in Hong Kong for? As far as the tourist and the social visitor is concerned, these days, little at all. Indeed, some five-star hoteliers are having small litters of kittens over Hong Kong's image crisis. Out of all this comes the perpetuated joke that Hong Kong is a shopper's paradise. Paradise is somewhere you go to after you are dead. In the meantime anything you buy in Hong Kong can be more conveniently bought, for less, with real service back up and in happier and more civil circumstances in Hamburg, Manchester or Chicago. Cornered, the Hong Kong Tourist Association will tell you that, despite the fact that Tsim Sha Tsui shopkeepers make the Bosnian Serb Army look like roaming philanthropists, all the things you might possibly want to buy are obligingly concentrated in one place. In reality this applies only to those whose shopping list is restricted to diamond rings, designer handbags and boutique fashions which only the Princess of Wales can get into after a light lunch. Try buying a hammer in Central. The Tourist Association, in its protective rhino hide, ploughs on. One enraged hotelier showed me the promotional literature for 'Wonders Never Cease', the associations' decisive leap into the 21st century with its new worldwide marketing campaign. It is a curious expression to use. It is normally employed in circumstances of near breathlessness over a miraculous event or remarkable innovation. I do not think the Cheung Chau Bun Festival (a religious observance, according to the literature) quite comes into that category. 'Hong Kong is one of the wonders of the modern world,' says Mr Patten in his introductory letter to the literature, a letter of so many cliches, his entire secretariat must have been put on the job of finding something to say. He actually used the word 'bustle'. This suggests that Mr Patten does not get actively involved in bustles. He would not want to either. Coming out of a good Hong Kong bustle would, anywhere else, be a sound reason to check yourself in to the local casualty department. Some of these wonders that the literature identifies in molasses prose can only be read in deep embarrassment with one eye open. 'The Chinese New Year opens the lunar calendar, quite literally with a bang,' says the leaflet. There should be something under the Hague Convention which prevents remarks like that. Never is there a greater whimper than Lunar New Year in Hong Kong. On more occasions than one cares to remember, the pedestrian firework display is confined to the lowest cloud line of the year. For four days the streets of Wan Chai are as 'bustling' as Sniper Alley. Occasional tourist couples in their give-away creams and beiges and daft hats wander the streets in distress 'rattling shop shutters'. 'Shopping . . . one of Hong Kong's favourite attractions for splendid reasons.' Splendid is a strange adjective to associate with electrical establishments in Peking Road or slippy unsanitary street markets or Chungking Mansions, an interesting distillation of both. 'Competitive!' clarions the brochure. The only competitions I have seen are between shop girls who try to be the one to ignore you the longest or incipient villains who vie to be the one who can give you a black eye fastest after you have entered his shop. Remarks in the literature like 'Hong Kong remains close to its cultural roots' one glazes over because one cannot imagine what they might mean. One hundred and forty years of culture based on long forgotten hamlets and the fact that a boy emperor spent a couple of nights on Lantau? The howler that stops you in your reading tracks is 'Victoria Harbour . . . the territory's most valuable asset . . . it gets newer and more glamorous every year.' All that about a huge public toilet and one that gets narrower every year, so much so now that the faeces jockey for position. Tourists will soon be able to walk across the harbour in a fashion they never imagined. I feel sorry for tourists, people who have not got a cent in the stock market or a business meeting in Exchange Square, who can only afford to stay in the Hotel Bamboo Shoot in Tuen Mun and look forward to paying US$70 for a buffet lunch for two, without a drink and yet come here anyway. I also feel sorry for residents who do not have the top of a tram to travel on for the first time. One expatriate woman reported to me that last Saturday she and her boyfriend resolved not to go out to a gweilo pub and get drunk and then go and spend the US$70 on a dinner. They went to a supermarket, tried to find something that would not bite them in the freezer, cooked at home, sipped mineral water and failed to find anything they wanted to watch on TV or in the cinema. 'Do you know, we ended up walking round Times Square for the evening,' she said. 'There is, actually, nothing to do here at night!' Wonders never cease!