I have escaped to Hong Kong for the post-Christmas come down. I, like many people, get overly stressed by Christmas. I think I suffer from a loathing of anything that expects me to have a good time. History has shown, however, that the empty two weeks after the holiday, when nobody is back to work, can be even worse. So, we have taken the initiative and decided to ponce off our last remaining rich friends. Most people I knew in the City have been fired, and rightly so. Our hosts in Hong Kong were always slightly more deserving of their ridiculous wealth, but even they were finally faced with a choice – redundancy or move to Asia and sack everyone out there. I've always assumed that, once everybody has been sacked, our host will find himself in a room where he somehow has to sack himself. This, however, is an unspoken truth and still a couple of years away, so we decided to strike while the golden calf is still plated.
I had a lot of friends who moved to Hong Kong in the early 1990s, when we were all leaving university and desperately trying to find a job in a post-room. We knew this lot as "Filth" (Failed In London Try Hong Kong), which was always a bit inaccurate because they weren't even motivated enough to fail in London before decamping East. They were mostly unimpressive but hungry types, and tended to end up in one of two camps.
Some did a lot better than us for five years or so but then moved back to the UK and found that none of their achievements counted for anything. They then had to start again at the bottom. A couple did rebuild, but most just sulked for 20 years and now count Jack Daniels as one of their best mates.
The others (far smaller in number) made a stupid amount of tax-free money and decided that they could never move back. These are the ones that you still bump into out here. There is one in every bar, slightly fatter, massively balder, and desperate to prove to you what an amazing lifestyle he (it's always he) is leading. They buy you drinks and gently tease you about your decision to pay taxes and live in "boring old Blighty".
After a couple of Gin Slings you can almost believe their banter – until you meet their fourth wife, whose grasp of English is unimpressive, and you find yourself alone again and walking through a smoggy Blade Runner of a city, where everything, although named after great British explorers and Scottish ports, is clearly nothing but historical lip-service. The expats you meet here are now weekend global shoppers or characters out of Staying On. They know that their time is up here in this, the new China boiler room, but they are nomads, no longer having any place to go home to.
Even the Hong Kong arrival is different – no longer do you clench buttocks as your plane meanders between apartment blocks before landing in the city centre. Now you land on newly reclaimed sea and drive into town on smooth, anodyne motorways. In a sense, the thrill is gone, but only for those who experienced the past. For everyone else this new world is theirs – good luck to them.