Tuesday, 23 October 2012

LA confidential

It’s been three years since LA Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant was last in Singapore, and the basketball legend is clearly in awe of the changes that have been made since then. “The last time I was here I saw drawings of what Marina Bay Sands would look like, but it’s even more impressive in real life,” he smiles.

Bryant was staying at Marina Bay Sands as part of a global charity tour being conducted in conjunction with Las Vegas Sands Corp. Having already visited Las Vegas and Macau, the sports icon was here to hold a basketball clinic for 52 children, including under-privileged kids under the care of Singapore’s Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, and 12 junior athletes from The Basketball Association of Singapore.

Click here to read the full article, which first appeared in the Winter 2011 edition of Sands Style.

Bluntly speaking

James Blunt is in good spirits despite having been on the road since January 2010. Clearly excited to be back in Singapore, the musician is all smiles when Sands Style catches up with him before his sell-out concert at the Grand Theater at Marina Bay Sands, laughing and joking with a highly likeable enthusiasm that seems a far departure from his trademark tortured-soul sound.

 “It’s funny, because people look at pictures of musicians in magazines and see the clothes they are wearing and the seemingly glamorous lifestyle they lead, but the reality of being a musician is a completely different world. Normally I sleep on the tour bus; my bunk is the size of a coffin, and my drummer sleeps above me. There are 10 men on that bus so it’s not easy. It’s like a 14-month camping trip,” he laughs. “Singapore is great because I actually get to sleep in a proper bed.”

Click here to read the full article, which first appeared in the Winter 2011 edition of Sands Style.

Old pal's act

David Foster is in remarkably good spirits for a 62-year- old man with a hangover. He bowls into Pangaea at Marina Bay Sands in extraordinary high spirits, taking a swipe at himself for wearing his sunglasses indoors. “I’m not a complete asshole,” he jokes. “Yesterday was my birthday, so I went for dinner and one glass of wine turned into seven, so I’m a little worse for wear.” 

It doesn’t show. The 16-time Grammy winner – famous for giving international stars including Celine Dion, Michael BublĂ© and Josh Groban their big breaks, as well as producing musicians from Michael Jackson to Madonna – was in town for his second annual Hitman – David Foster and Friends Asia Tour.

Click here to read the full article, which first appeared in the Fall 2011 edition of Sands Style.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The land that political correctness forgot

A long, long time ago, I worked in an office. It was a magical office: a place of great achievements, of growing empires and a veritable smorgasbord of mischief and mayhem that would never be tolerated in today’s more politically correct, professional corporate world.

As you may have guessed, I spent my formative working years in Hong Kong, that bastion of bad behaviour, where every move you made was up for ridicule and you hadn’t made it until you had an offensive nickname.  

I’m sure this will have my feminist friends shaking in their flat, shapeless shoes, but I’ve been given countless decidedly sexist monikers over the years: from princess to juicy, bar wench, and – my personal favourite – pleasure model. I rue the day I taught one American employer the phrase dappy moo.

To be fair, I wasn’t exactly what you’d call averse to dishing it out in return. I called one boss Blobby for years, until I settled on the much less flattering pet name, the Hindenburg. One co-worker responded to the name FUB, which stands for fat useless bastard.

It wasn’t all affectionate yet inappropriate nicknames however. We also indulged in a host of high jinx that would have done Just William proud. There was the time we gaffer taped a particularly hairy workmate’s arms to a desk, the time my boss peed in a pot plant in the office of a rival business head, and the time we tortured a colleague of ours by defacing his beloved Canadian flag, which flew proudly above his workstation. Hang on; we did that every time we worked late.

Friday afternoon was office cricket day, where we pulled the metal arches from our workstations and used them as bats, firing stress balls around the room, taking out cups of coffee for five points, phones for ten, and – well – the Canadian flag to take the game.

It wasn’t just us either, and behaviour such as this was common all over the territory. Walk into almost any financial institution back in the day and you were likely to hear screams of, “Get your fat arse over here and make me a cup of tea,” bellowing through office doors. It was equally common to hear responses like, “Make it yourself you feckless twat,” hurled back by beleaguered yet good-humoured assistants.

One banker I knew, who shall remain nameless, used to send himself faxes because his secretary, who always wore short skirts, had to bend over a table to retrieve them, and another offered me USD20k to sleep with him. Who am I kidding? That happened three times!

But one of my all-time favourite examples of inappropriate behaviour came as the handover approached. With the reality of Chinese rule fast approaching, one of our regional leaders – let’s call him Bill – flew in to town to deliver a presentation addressing the impending political change.

Bill was a small man with just the slightest hint of a Napoleon complex. Just replace the bicorn hat with a pair of high-heeled cowboy boots and you’ve got the picture. What he lacked in height, he more than made up for in humour and charm, and wasn’t averse to a smattering of inappropriate behaviour himself.

The PLA:
We'd never have seen them coming
The entire company trundled down to the Foreign Correspondent’s Club to hear his thoughts on what would happen when the Chinese took over. “So, what do we think will happen?” he asked rhetorically, and we all listened eagerly as he continued. “Business will be conducted as usual. Nothing will change and we will continue to operate as normal.” The acronym B.A.U. slowly filled the screen behind him, reinforcing his statement.

“However,” Bill continued, “We could wake up on 1 July to find tanks in the street.” Given the PLA had moved a large number of troops down to the China Hong Kong border, this was in fact a possibility, however the seriousness of the situation was perhaps lost on us given the word T.I.T.S. had just flashed up on the screen behind him. To this day, I don’t know if it was a genuine mistake or a tongue in cheek demonstration of his sense of humour.

Either way, yesterday’s culture of teasing and boyish pranks has long since been replaced by political backstabbing as the workplace modus operandi, but back then the office was a place for fun, where nobody took themselves too seriously. We worked hard, had fun doing it, then celebrated our successes with far too many glasses of booze in Petticoat Lane before doing it all again. I have to say, while I am all for a professional working environment, I do miss that magical office.

I can’t possibly be the only person who had way too much fun at work back in the 90s. If you have a tale to tell, email it to me. If it makes me drop my bacon sarnie from laughing, I’ll publish it. Anonymously of course J

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The devil's playground

As many of you will attest, Hong Kong at the turn of the century closely resembled Sodom and Gomorrah on speed. Life raced by in a hedonistic haze of hands-in-the-air dance parties and deliciously dirty little clubs, and it was not unusual for Friday night to turn into Sunday at the drop of a pill. You knew you were a clubber if you thought chupa chups were a food group unto themselves.

From the extraordinary home grown talents of Joel Lai, Christian Berentson, Kulu and Lee Burridge; to the veritable invasion of international DJs that graced our shores such as Sasha, John Digweed, Paul Oakenfold, Pete Tong, Paul Van Dyke, Armand Van Helden and Jeremy Healy to name but a few; barely a weekend went by without at least four raves taking place. We had a ball.

Given space is always an issue on the island, the main event usually took place in the larger venues. Bar City was a personal favourite. Over on the dark side – Kowloon to the uneducated – the club was in the basement of one of the major hotels and played host to countless incredible nights.

It was a great venue. Dark and dingy, you walked in through the shopping mall entrance, made it past the chill out room – a seething mass of bleary-eyed dance denizens swearing undying love to the stranger sprawled next to them – and felt the music literally slap you silly across the face as you hit the main room.

The bar on the right was always busy, selling bottles of water that cost more than a dirty martini today, but the main action was down a small flight of stairs. Unfortunately there was only a railing on one side, and the owners had strategically placed a rather large potted palm on the other side in a vain attempt to prevent accidents. The reality was I routinely fell into the damned thing as I wobbled my way to the dance floor – a great look when you’re wearing a skirt that barely covers your backside. I know that thing claimed many a victim.

And talking of accidents, Jimmy’s Sport’s Bar also played home to one of my more memorable mishaps. The Fat Boy Slim gig was especially unforgettable for me, primarily because I managed to slip and aquaplane down the stairs from the VIP area to the dance floor on my PVC-clad arse, taking out a small crew of clubbers as I landed. This was clearly a high point of the evening for me, and by far beat out the fact that we ended up hanging out with the man of the hour in his hotel room until 8am. Top fella that Norman Cook by the way.

Hong Kong was also famous for its after parties, which usually took place in the decrepid dungeons of Wanchai. These tiny clubs, which began their evenings filled with fat old expats listening to the lively strains of Filipino bands and trying to pick up bar girls, miraculously transformed into filthy underground dens of iniquity kicking out dirty great beats and literally heaving with the overflow from the night’s best parties: the true Hong Kongers who refused to go home until the drugs were all gone and they were ready to drop. Well that or the magical phrase “Back to mine” was uttered.

Neptunes 1 was the fricken bomb. Quite possibly one of the most disgusting clubs I have ever been to, no night out was complete without a visit. To put it in perspective, the seats on the women’s toilets all had dirty great foot prints from girls standing on them to squat, and I once woke up after one particularly massive night there to discover a massive lump of hash stuck to the soul of my boot. And no I didn’t before you ask.

Countless more of these clubs would open and close over the years. CE Top, Homebase, Level 27 and the Yellow Frog all became Hong Kong institutions, frequented only by the most intrepid of players who didn’t mind if their feet stuck to the floor. Oddly enough, the Yellow Frog was one of the few places in which I managed to not make a complete twat of myself – although I do recall one night when a friend of mine decided to dance on the table and got smacked in head by the ceiling fan.

And who could forget Funky Times, the 70s club night that made its way to HK on a regular basis and goes down in history as one of the best parties in town. So big, one HK crew went so far as to hire a bus to take them to the venue in full on funky regalia to make sure nobody got lost. My particular favourite was the school disco-themed final hoorah, when a certain friend of mine dressed up as a headmaster and spent his evening trying to confiscate illicit substances from everyone on the dance floor. You know who you are!

Almost a decade later, Hong Kong remains a haven for hedonists, however nothing quite matches up to the debauchery of the late 90s. As we settled into the new millennium, smarter, sleeker clubs such as Drop and Dragon-I opened their doors, introducing a new generation of equally talented DJs such as the inimitable Eric Byron, and a considerably more sophisticated approach to clubbing emerged. The glow sticks and lollipops of the late 90s disappeared. I stopped wearing my hair in bunches, ditched the glow-in-the-dark lipstick and swapped my red wings for stilettos.

None of this was a bad thing, and today any one of these clubs will deliver one of the best nights of your life, albeit wearing considerably better clothes. Fuck New York. To this day, Hong Kong is the only true city that never sleeps.

For those of you who remember those heady days, Bar City, Neptunes, Funky Times, CE Top and the Yellow Frog all have facebook pages where you can shamefacedly find yourself in the many photos that have already been uploaded. Check them out.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

A rude awakening in Hong Kong

The descent into Hong Kong’s Kai Tak airport was everything I expected and more. Exciting, exhilarating and downright terrifying, I swear the plane’s wings trawled laundry hanging to dry outside the Kowloon buildings as we banked a sharp right in our descent. I could actually see the early morning cartoons small children were watching as they wolfed down congee for breakfast before school.

Someone at the back of the cabin screamed, and I remember feeling the tell tale signs of two size elevens being pushed into the back of my seat as the man behind me tried to steady himself against the fear we were going to crash.

Of course we didn’t. Despite being one of the most challenging approaches in aviation history, Kai Tak actually had very few crashes, and less than an hour later I walked out of the airport, unbeknownst to me about to embark on a new life 7,500 miles away from my home in Newcastle, England.

It was 15 November 1995, and the time was approximately 6am. Just fourteen hours earlier I had boarded a plane in Heathrow, dreaming of seeing the world and living the life of a traveller. Having worked for a hire car company in Jersey to raise some money, my plan was to spend two weeks in Hong Kong before working in Australia for a year and then travelling on to Fiji, Los Angeles, and eventually New York. That was the plan anyway.

Following advice from the guidebook I had firmly clutched in my hand, I took a bus to the Star Ferry terminal and boarded a boat. Jetlagged, sleepy and nervous, I slowly rubbed the sleep from my eyes and Victoria Harbour’s spectacular skyline appeared before me for the first time. I was in love. It was no use. England paled into distant memories and I knew that I would never leave Asia again. 

This is an excerpt from a chapter I wrote for a book called Many Ships One Boat. While the book actually explores the human and humorous side of expat life in Singapore, my own personal contribution starts with my arrival in Hong Kong and winds up in the Lion City via a brief stint on a tropical beach in the Philippines. Available from Select Books, Many Ships One Boat features the delightfully different narratives of 20 expatriates living in Singapore today, and is a rollicking good read.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Welcome to Asia

Living in Asia since 1995 has provided me with a heady, unique and often extraordinary education into the region’s chaotic capitals. From the hazy hedonism of Hong Kong, to the beautiful beaches of Boracay and Singapore’s strangely sanitized shores, I’ve had the good fortune to live in some of the most exciting and exotic places in the world, and travel to many, many more. I can genuinely say it’s been quite a ride.

Having spent 15 years in this glorious part of the world, I’ve witnessed the exceptional courage of those less fortunate than myself, seen empires being built from scratch, and watched people more successful than myself lose everything, at best on the markets, at worst to their own personal demons. The region might bring out the best in some, but it elicits the worst in others. One thing is certain: it's never dull.

I must confess, I've experienced my own fair share of personal drama over the years too. Being spiked with Ketamine and shot at in Cambodia was interesting. So was being blacklisted from Qantas. I spent a year refusing to go out with anyone who didn't look like an Abercrombie & Fitch model, and two interviewing pop stars for a living. I've been knocked out wakeboarding in Penang, and knocked up in Cebu, and that's just for starters. If I could do it all again, I wouldn't change a thing. The stories alone are worth their weight in gold.

I’ve started this blog because I want to share some of those stories and give you an idea of what it's like to live in this incredible region. Some will be funny, others sad. Most will feature fake names to protect the guilty and the embarrassed, not to mention hopefully protect me from being sued. There will also be countless random rants about things that piss me off, so my apologies in advance. Hopefully you'll still find it interesting J

Enjoy the read
Creative Commons License
In Search of Gerard Butler by Portia De Jorday is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at insearchofgerardbutler.blogspot.com.