Thursday, February 8, 2007

Happy Valley

I've been interested in coming to Hong Kong for a long time. I think my interest sprung from pictures of the city that showed the glittering skyline and crowded chaotic streetscapes. Another iconic image of Hong Kong that I always saw in National Geographic-like magazines was that of expats and locals taking in a horse race at some track in the middle of the city. Given my uber-tourist status I made it a point of going to a horse race while here.

After arriving I discovered that there ate two racecourses here in the territory, one in Sha Tin about 5 minutes from the University and one in Happy Valley near Causeway Bay in downtown. I almost went to the one in Sha Tin given its proximity to the dorm and the fact it has more races, but upon further research I discovered that the one in Happy Valley was both more historic(the site has been used for racing virtually since the British arrived) and more scenic since it was right in the middle of the city. Going to Sha Tin to see a race would be like going to Chicago and catching a baseball game at Comiskey, er I mean US Cellular Field.

Well, I got a bunch of CU students, Faisal and Saeeda to come with me to catch a race. General admission is HK$10 ($1.29), but I had read that as tourists you could show your passports and pay HK$100 ($12.90) to get access to the "member only" places in the racecourse. I thought that it would be cool, and, somewhat foolishly, convinced everybody to pony up the cash. With our badge, we kept walking into rooms to be told it was for "members only" or even more exclusive "owners only." When asked what exactuly our access to "members only" areas bought us, we were ushered to a grandstand on the second floor. Yes it allowed us to see the race better, but I'm not sure it was work 10x the admission.

Despite the dubious admission benefits of the badge, it did give us more insight into the Asian's love of gambling because in the "members only" area it almost exclusively Asian. As the only place in the SAR to gamble, the place was crowded. Like in Macau, everybody was deadly serious with racing forms and books in hand intently watching the races. Very little chit-chat and virtually no drinking. The environment was actually a bit tense, especially after the race when the losers cursed loudly in Cantonese and threw whatever paper was in their hands.

As we were all taking in the scene, and enjoying the cool view of the buildings surrounding the racetrack I got a call from the Tuck student saying she was at the racecourse near the beer tents. She didn't buy the member pass(smart) and I told her one of us would be down to smuggle her up to where we were sitting. However, she has refused to buy a cell phone while here (how 20th century) so finding her was going to be quite the challenge.

I went to find her, and lo and behold I found a gweilo corral around the beer tents. Even more amusing, there was a McDonald's right next to the beer tents. Like moths to a flame, the beer tents and McDonalds attracted every last gweilo in the place into this concentrated area and turned the area into one giant bar. No Asians in sight, because they were here to gamble the gweilos to drink. It was as if the Jockey Club wanted to sequester the riff-raff from the serious gamblers. Frankly it was a good place to drink, it was outside with a cool view and the beer was cheap compared to LKF.

Given that it's Asia, the Tuck student normally sticks out with her long blond hair, but here that was not a defining characteristic. Almost every girl had long blond hair, and finding her was like playing Where's Waldo, but without the red and white striped hat. Since I couldn't call her it became an exercise in futility and after about 10 miuntes I gave up. Not having a cell phone is a serious handicap in this age. . .

However, it did clue me into the existance of this area, and we eventually decamped to the gweilo corral and had a beer.
The Spaniard started to play his luck and for the last race decided to bet HK$10 on horse number 9 to place which in the US normally meant a 1st or 2nd place showing. Well guess what, horse 9 came in second place, so the card was a winner or so we thought. While in line, the German read the card and said:

- "If you wanted horse 9, why did you bet on horse 8?"

Turns out, the spaniard had the window employee mark his betting form and the guy misunderstood him, because the card clearly showed horse 8 was marked. The spaniard was pissed, and we left the line to avoid the embarrasment of having the employee laugh in our face as we presented a losing card for payment. However, I went over the board to see that horse 8 was in third. I showed that to the spaniard and said that he almost won. The German then said

"wait a second it shows that a place bet on 8 wins $23, and a place bet on 9 wins $19."

Turns out, the spaniard won more than he would have because place bet means both 2nd and 3rd here in HK and horse 8 had longer odds.

Lucky bastard. . . well he became so excited that he said "who wants to jump on my back and ride me like a horse for a victory lap."

The place was called Happy Valley, but he was a little too giddy after winning US$2.50. I wonder what he would say if he won more.


Faisal said...

Hey, look at it this way. At least the Spaniard made back some of the US$25 we all paid to get into the "Member's Only" enclosure. Good times!

meghaks said...

How interesting... the two Tuck girls in our program were also the ONLY people to not get cell phones. We always ended up at different restaurants, they constantly missed buses and couldn't tell anyone and if they weren't with someone, there was no way to reach them. I wonder if they teach them that technology is evil at Tuck?