November 09, 2014

Halloween in Hong Kong

It all began with a Sailor Moon costume. I spotted it at stall at the Ladies' Market in Mong Kok, amid a sea of g-strings and fishnet tights.

I knew I had to have it. And so did the saleswoman.

"Two hundred eighty dollar.* Include glove and headband. Good price."
I remembered everything I had read about markets in Hong Kong and how they always overcharge tourists so you must firmly haggle them down to around half the price.

"Erm... that's a bit much, how about $180?"

The saleswoman began taking the costume out of the bag, modelling the gloves so I could appreciate the full effect.

"No no, too cheap, very beautiful costume, so nice. Ok, two hundred forty dollar. That is final."

I hesitated. The saleswoman, still donning the gloves, attempted something akin to a Sailor Moon pose. Or could possibly have been giving me the fingers.

You can't really say no to that.

Anyway, soon enough it was Halloween and I found myself with an excuse to get some wear out of my new purchase. The place to spend Halloween in Hong Kong is Lan Kwai Fong, a notorious expat party area, and apparently a bit of a novel attraction for mainland Chinese tourists, who seem to enjoy taking photos of all the red-faced, drunken foreigners. Handily, the area is located just a few blocks from my apartment.

Despite containing more than a hundred bars, eateries and shops, Lan Kwai Fong is actually tiny - it's basically a lane, surrounded by a maze of narrow, steep, cobbled streets. When you combine that with thousands of intoxicated revellers, it could well be a recipe for disaster. Twenty years ago, it was - on New Year's Eve in Lan Kwai Fong in 1993, 21 people were crushed to death in a stampede.

Ever since, police have been extra-cautious with crowd control during all major events in the area. Halloween is considered one of the biggest party nights of the year, so police erect barricades all the way from the MTR station to Lan Kwai Fong, controlling how many people go in and out.

My street was enclosed in the "barricade zone" (honestly, between this and Occupy Central I have never seen so many barricades), so what would usually be a three minute walk from my apartment to Lan Kwai Fong ended up taking half an hour, as I was diverted all the way down to the station and then back up and around, rather than being able to cut through the side streets and alleyways.

Even with all the blockades, I don't think I have ever seen or will ever see again in my life as many people in one place. You talk about a "sea" of people but to me that implies something calm; how I would describe it is like, a kid colouring a picture with a fat crayon in their fist, trying very hard to stay inside the lines but always scribbling outside them. It was an absolute scribble of people.

It was chaotic. But it was also incredibly fun. There were street vendors selling silly hats and glow-in-the-dark devil horns, and photographers snapping pictures of some of the more impressive costumes. There were even families having a look around, the children dressed up and carrying trick-or-treat buckets. It was a very safe, festive atmosphere.

I spent most of the night in a pub with a group of cool people I had just met through New Zealand networking drinks. Then, to my delight, about 20 Sailor Moon characters walked through the door - half girls, half boys dressed in fabulous drag. They adopted me into their Sailor Moon posse and we quickly bonded over our costume-buying experiences (they had hit up the Ladies' Market too).

But the night was over almost as soon as it began. The very next day, as if by magic, all the Halloween decorations had disappeared... and been replaced with Christmas ones.  

*$280 is Hong Kong dollars, don't worry. That equals about NZ$46. I ended up paying $40 (so my "haggling" saved me a grand total of $6).

Lan Kwai Fong, Halloween 2014
A view of Pottinger Street, with barricades
People heading into Lan Kwai Fong
People buying last-minute costumes at Pottinger Street, a stone step street with lots of costume shops
With my new friends, Sailor Moon (I want her wig) and Sailor Venus