"Night vibes" killing the day vibes
Democracy dies in darkness, they say, so I went to look at the Wan Chai "Night Vibes" Carnival in the daylight. It leaves a pretty bleak taste.
In its desperate bid to turn us all nocturnal, the government has transformed a half-decent harbourfront promenade into an unimaginative rancid cesspool of litter, grease, stinking diesel, cigarette smoke and several tonnes of child-labour-produced Tao Bao "gift" shit.
The sadness for me isn't in how ugly or depressing the whole "Night Vibes" thing is, but how the government sacrificed the promenade and playground in Wan Chai without a second thought (or, that anyone saw, a tender).
This is a carnival which only comes out at night. But during the day, the stalls are left in place, covered with a child-labour-produced cheap white plastic which billows and tears in the wind. Grass is cordoned off and used for garbage storage. The playground slides are blocked off. The empty grey queuing railings look like cattle runs. A long list of rules flaps impotently, outlawing smoking and "standing and/or dancing in passageways". Security guards stand around smoking. Visitors, wondering if they can smoke, follow their lead.
Oh, and the food equipment looks plain nasty, with no obvious signs of any food hygiene going on anywhere1 and adding to the general air of cheap decaying seaside resort.
Nobody, at any stage of its design, gave any thought to how the desecration of a prime tourism asset might look in the day time, or whether the intangible day-time value of a unique and world-class harbour view might ultimately add more to GDP than the alcohol and instant noodles on offer from the relatively tiny number of night-time stalls2.
The carnival is supposed to be finishing up today, but state propaganda is already calling on the city to extend "Night Vibes" into a more permanent feature. From a social policy perspective, getting locals too hungover to care is probably as good a way as any to keep dissent low3. And given the fanaticism for the “night economy” of late, we can only expect more of this garbage.
And if that’s all too cynical and Night Vibes is a fun thing which people really enjoy then surely there’s a way to run it without leaving the district totally bleak and messed up during the day?
On a slightly related (and cheerier) note, Dallas restaurant critic Brian Reinhart writes a terrific piece on urban planning4 and the pitfalls of treating consumers like rats in a maze. While we HKers have forced-fun in the form of night markets, Reinhart’s city is facing the idiocy of yet another doomed-to-fail “Restaurant Park”. Well worth a read for the parallels with our own planned economy. Reinhart also contrasts the latest Restaurant Park with Dallas’ Koreatown, noting that Koreatown’s success isn’t just restaurants but retail (big brand and independent) and doctors etc:
Koreatown offers an experience you can’t easily get elsewhere in Dallas. It offers the visitor a unique proposition and is named after that unique trait. It offers that special experience because it developed organically over years of small business growth, not because a real estate company decided to try a lab mouse experiment. [my bold]
Remarkably, for Texas, Reinhart says the area has become so “packed with pedestrians that they’d essentially reclaimed the parking lots back from cars”. If that can happen in Texas, where people literally drive to cross the street, there’s a recipe for success. Who wants to send our culture chief to Dallas for a study trip?
Not a sink in sight, nowhere for hand washing, food washing or utensil washing.
Relatively tiny against the city's 17,545 restaurants, which together contribute around 2% of the city's GDP in a good year.
Just reading Paul Kenyon's excellent Dictatorland - The Men Who Stole Africa and had a "sit up and swear loudly" moment upon reading the paragraph where Robert Mugabe seeks help from the Chinese in his battle for Rhodesia. The Chinese supply weapons and tactics, advising his party to "blend like fish" with the population, after which Mugabe embarks on a Night Vibes campaign of his own, organising "all-night meetings with singing and dancing, and provid[ing] free food and entertainment for the peasant communities". This is nothing like Hong Kong, of course, where we have to pay $20 for four siu mei and there’s no singing or dancing allowed.
I have a Google news alert for “Jane Jacobs”, which is 96% journalists reading Jacobs’ Death & Life for the first time and going “OH FUCKING HELL WOW”