One lighter moment to emerge from the local pandemic was a cruelly amusing meme, taken from a leaked text message, which surfaced in the wake of the recent “ dance-hall cluster ” infections: “Auntie! I don’t want to work any more! Auntie …” Hong Kong abounds with older men in relationships with significantly younger women; this phenomenon has long been regarded as a sign of wealth, power and sexual potency. Just as prevalent, though mostly better hidden, are affluent local females with well-compensated male companions. In Chinese society, openly expressed female sexuality has always been derided; “old ginger is the hottest” is just one pithy saying that coarsely depicts the unlatched carnal desires of “itchy” mature females. Ballrooms staffed by female taxi dancers became popular in China more than a century ago, during treaty port days; numerous travel accounts and memoirs vividly describe this nightlife scene. Less well-documented – though telling hints exist, if one knows how to decode the euphemisms – are references to the male of the species. Dance halls have long offered more-or-less respectable entertainment for both sexes, as everything – at least on the surface – is out in the open. Any after-hours private arrangements occur off the premises, and thus concern nobody, unless the unwritten rules of engagement are publicly contravened. Every so often, some unforeseen circumstance – such as the “dance-hall cluster” – brings this parallel world into sharply sniggering relief. In the time-dishonoured Hong Kong way, everyone “knew” what was really going on, and no one said a word. Let there be no mistake about it – ballroom dancing is good fun, excellent exercise, thoroughly social and provides a plausible excuse to hold each other tight for a few minutes, in all the right places. Meanwhile, both partners can deftly negotiate their next moves, under cover of music and movement. Inexorably, slow waltzes speed up, as the evening progresses, via the foxtrot, quickstep, rhumba and cha-cha-cha, into a frenzied late-night samba session. For the more, shall we say skilled, male “dance partners”, financial compensations are well worth their efforts. Generous “red packets”, expensive watches, designer clothing, luxury cars – even flats – are among the rewards. The lyrics of Cole Porter’s catchy I’m a Gigolo , “… I get stocks and bonds, from faded blondes …” sums up the transactional nature of these relationships. Tennis coaches, yoga instructors and personal trainers are all fair game for the “itchy”, though ballrooms offer the most discreet hunting grounds. Many male dance partners hold down a day job, at least until the lucrative fringe benefits give their “hobby” a life of its own. Others – whisper it softly – are actually gay, but are prepared to bat on other wickets for the right reward. Before Covid-19 scuppered international travel, a certain upmarket Hong Kong Island shopping complex, and the nearby cluster of high-class hotels, was regionally known as a plausible circumspect pleasure-haunt for affluent out-of-town women, who periodically popped over for a “shopping” trip. Well-kept, East Asian females of a certain age, walked and lunched by handsome, immaculately groomed, discreetly hunky younger men carrying their designer bags, were a dead giveaway to the eagle-eyed. Such liaisons were deliberately understated; to casual observers, the amblers could easily have been a middle-aged auntie and her favourite nephew, out for a lazy afternoon’s wander around the shops. And why not? Sauce for the gander, after all, goes just as well with the goose. The only material difference is that these “compensated-dating” arrangements – like the “dance-hall cluster” backstory –go largely unacknowledged.