Hong Kong murders: Welcome to Wan Chai, the city's dark heart where expats party with their 'Miss World'

Many drunken traders make the short trip from the financial district

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Two bouquets of flowers left outside J Residence, the exclusive apartment block where Rurik Jutting lives, are the only visible signs that something appalling happened in Wan Chai.

Less than a two-minute walk away, Hong Kong’s best-known and most eclectic nightlife destination is its usual bustling self – the neon glare, the steam rising from the cookers of street food sellers, the cockroaches growing fat on the dregs of discarded wine glasses. But what happened inside the J Residence block remains the talk of the town.

“[Wan Chai] is the heart of Hong Kong,” says Todd Harding, manager of the Devil’s Advocate bar, on Lockhart Road, one of the area’s main strips. “Everything happens here, the good and the bad.”

Mr Harding, born in Ealing, west London, has lived in Asia for more than 20 years. His bar, he says, serves “a smorgasbord of cosmopolitan people”, adding that despite the weekend’s grisly revelations, for the bankers, traders and general merrymakers it’s business as usual. “People come here to party. It’s like an expat play area,” he says.

Wan Chai is home to traders of all kinds, from traditional Cantonese noodle restaurants and art dealers to estate agents and the ubiquitous 7/11 convenience stores. But around 9pm sex workers, the area’s most well-known traders, change the tone of the evening.

It is no coincidence that the women whose bodies were found in Rurik Jutting’s flat are thought to have been Indonesian sex workers. The area, a favourite stop-off for American sailors coming from Vietnam and nearby up until the 1990s, employs hundreds of strippers, lap dancers and prostitutes, mostly from across South-East Asia.

Away from the more raunchy joints, the bar clientele tends to consist overwhelmingly – though not exclusively – of white men. Women are often much younger, prettier and South-East Asian. Some of the interiors are deliberately reminiscent of the “great British pub”, with wood panelling, Tetley’s on tap and waitresses wearing ersatz rugby jerseys for a uniform.

More than one drug dealer in the area says that customers are mainly European – surprising for a city that is more than 90 per cent Chinese.

Standing on the street corners or applying their mascara next to the dark velvet curtains of strip clubs, the women offering their services avoid speaking to journalists, having been warned against it by their ever-watchful employers. Despite the tragic and stomach-turning details that have emerged since Saturday morning, they can reassure themselves that they’re still in one of the world’s safest major cities. Just 14 homicides were recorded in the city in the first seven months of this year.

There is an unusual chill in the air, but still the women of Wan Chai wear little, smiling and sometimes grabbing at the shirts of passing men, insisting that they come inside for a drink. Many do.

Above one particularly garish pink and blue sign, visible a mile down the road above the drab high-rise buildings, looms a rather less garish sign. It reads: “Merrill Lynch Bank of America”. The sign sits  atop the building where, until recently, Rurik Jutting was just another monied trader.

The city’s financial district, which accounts for a large chunk of the territory’s Western workers, also contributes a large share of the money that spills into Wan Chai’s tills. Although Wan Chai serves an eclectic mix of people, plenty of rich, drunk men still make the short trip from the skyscraper offices of Citibank, HSBC and other major institutions in the Asian business hub to its alternative commodities market.

Another local bar manager, who asks not to be named, says workers from the financial district are not the majority of his clientele, but adds: “I guess they start in Soho [a rather more clean-cut nearby drinking spot] and talk shop. But then, when their personality is getting them nowhere, they head here and they can have Miss World in their arms. But then, I guess anyone looks like Miss World after 10 pints.”

Rurik Jutting is known to have drunk in Wan Chai bars, and certainly had the money to cover the biggest bar tabs. Like hundreds of thousands of other foreigners over the years, he chose Wan Chai as his home. And when the murder case is solved, and the two women killed are laid to rest, Wan Chai – Hong Kong’s dark heart – will continue to beat.