I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


here they come!
Originally uploaded by Darren Foreman.

Hungover on Sunday morning, breakfast sorted me out, etc. Now on Saturday the bus down from the peak had taken me past Happy Valley, so before going to the bar I'd looked up whether there was any racing on that night. Hong Kongers love a punt -- the races bring in 10% of all tax revenues IIRC. No races on but I discovered the "Come horseracing" package, a tour which gets you return coach transfer, free food and booze in a private box for an entire meeting. As luck would have it Sunday was National Day, a celebration of the formation of the People's Republic of China back in 1947 (I think) so there was a special day of racing at the other course, Sha Tin. Went to the hotel's tour desk and they got me on the tour, the very last space there was. Sorted.

So on Sunday morning after breakfast and blogging I got on the shuttle bus to Tsim Sha Tsui, had a diet coke, then went to the meeting point in the YMCA's foyer. Registered there and sat down, ended up chatting to an Australian woman called Jenny who arrived soon after me. Turns out she's just been to Japan and stayed in the same hotel that I'll be in, and is also in Singapore for the last half of this week. Coincidencetastic.

The tour bus arrived and we all piled on, got a bit of history and guidelines and stuff before getting to Sha Tin, a 30-minute or so drive north into the New Territories (ie inland, not on Hong Kong island). This racecourse holds 83,000 people and has the biggest diamond screen TV in the world. It's a posh place alright. We were all escorted up to our box on the 6th floor and seated, most of the western types all on one table. As well as me, on table 1 there was Jenny the Australian, Keith the Australian and his wife whose name I forget so I'll assume it was Sheila, Ian the northerner (I guess Lancashire from the accent) and his wife whose name I also forget, Oscar the Colombian and his missus whose name was never mentioned, and two Americans neither of whose names I caught.

Betting at a Hong Kong racecourse is a bit different to the UK. The mainstay bets you place are win, place, quinella, and quinella place. Quinella means selecting 2 horses to appear first and second (but not in order), quinella place means selecting 2 horses to appear in the top 3. But for every type of bet you can pick any number of horses and the cost of the bet is adjusted according to the possible permutations. That's just one type of slip -- there are 3 or 4 other types of betting slip you can use for different, ever more complicated and unlikely scenarios that I steered well clear of.

Ah, the word "scenarios" reminds me of something. How is "nachos" pronounced? Both Kevin and Sally insist it's "natch-oss", even after my claim that it's a plural of nacho and thus obviously "natch-oes", with the supposedly missing 'e' just an anomaly. Is it an anomaly though? "Scenarios" looks like backing me up a bit here. Sal had actually attempted to get some backup by accosting a dog-walking man in Randwick but as luck would have she'd picked on a Brit who can talk proper. ;-)

Anyway. Betting. Ian and his missus travel the world visiting betting courses, a trip to Sha Tin (and maybe Happy Valley) being their entire reason for being in Hong Kong. They've been to every course in the UK, to the Kentucky Derby, the Melbourne Cup, all over Australia where they lived for a few years, just generally all over the place. My word did they know how to bet. In fact everyone did, myself included. Where I fell down was that I didn't know how to win, as I didn't get a single dollar or cent back all day, even when I picked the runaway favourites. Gah.

Mind you, I only lost about 25 quid overall I guess, much less than I could put in a fruit machine over the course of 5 hours. As it goes the whole trip was superb, really really enjoyable. The racecourse is wonderful, and huge. The weather typical and the tower blocks grim and grey but inside the food was great (international buffet, fill yer boots of chinese and other stuff, plus desserts, for 2.5 hours), the alcohol never-ending (the waiters refused to let any glass drop below less than 1/3rd full... for 5 straight hours) and the company a lot of fun.

boats in Hong Kong
Originally uploaded by Darren Foreman.

The most surprising thing was that the course was relatively empty. There may well have been 30-odd thousand people there but it holds 83 thousand, it was a Sunday (and public holiday with a special racecard) and we all expected a far more raucous atmosphere. Still good though, and there were sections of the course that were crowded and atmospheric.

One of the races was telecast from Japan and after that one our party was escorted to the paddock where people were studying the look of the runners in the 6th. Lots of people. Lots and lots of people. From there we were led out front to watch them race from right by the winning post. That was pretty large really. A few photo ops by the winners' enclosure then back up to the box for more booze and stuff. A little later there was also an excursion to the gift shop, where everything was so fucking cheap (and made even more so by the 10% discount voucher we'd each been given). But it sucked that they didn't have any shirts left :-(

That was it really. Drinking, betting, losing, drinking, betting, losing. We left before the last race (not including the Arc de Triomphe that was being telecast at 11.30pm!) to avoid the traffic and got dropped off back at the YMCA in Tsim Sha Tsui. Just missed a shuttle bus so I went to buy a diet coke (that was all the money I had left, $7, about 48p) before the next one. Got on and there were the northern couple, turned out they were in the same hotel as me.

Back at the hotel I had a couple of hours doing not much prior to the evening's entertainment. Being National Day there was a huge fireworks display in the harbour going on at 9.15pm and I had a ticket for the rooftop bash at my hotel. 21st floor with yet more unlimited free booze and nosh and a corking view. Well, a fairly good view... the fireworks themselves were partially obscured by a raft of satellie dishes on a neighbouring building, but just watching the harbour from up there was superb, as shitloads of boats came along to take their positions for the show. An awesome sight. The photos I took don't do it justice really, but I did get a couple of OK self-portraits I thought.

After 90 minutes up there (the fireworks lasted for 23 minutes in the middle) I was a bit drunk, and had eaten too much. So I went to bed with my last full day in Hong Kong ahead of me.

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