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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Wednesday Night at the Races

One of the things I love about living in Happy Valley is its upliftingly charming moniker; it makes me feel like I'm cohabiting with Teletubbies, Hello Kitty and the six (or will it now be seven with the introduction of Merida from Brave? God, I'm such a Pixar nerd) Disney princesses, surrounded by all things sparkly, sprinkled with fairy dust, and saturated in primary colours.

The reality is somewhat less cartoony but only by a smidgen.  Being home to one of Hong Kong's two race courses, and in this densely populated neighbourhood just a char siew pau's throw from Causeway Bay, Happy Valley is regarded as the centre of the universe (if the universe is mostly populated by  Chinese men wearing slippers and polyester shirts, with a death grip on their dog-eared, sweat-stained racing guides) every Wednesday, from September to July.  I know this because once every week, I sat amongst them on my tram ride home, watching them recalibrate, reassess and readjust their racing stats, before spilling out at the last stop near the racecourse entrance.  I'd always wondered what went on in that open-air mega-giga watt sphere, and on one humid Wednesday evening, I skipped my yoga class and headed for the races to see what the excitement was all about. 
A packed evening at the races - the scene that greeted me at the Public Grandstand.
Now, I'd mistakenly assumed that my no-makeup, hair scrungied in a knot, shapeless yoga gear would be a good cover amongst the senior XY racing brethren.  That was before I saw that the festive scene before me was more like an equine version of Mardi Gras, complete with costumed get-ups, live band performances, and attractive 30-something expats - some still in their banker-after-work uniform, some in relaxed Hamptons gear, and others squeezed into faux-leopard mini dresses with matching Sergio Rossi stilettos. And seemingly everywhere - on their hands, little cocktail tables, and the ground - were jugs and jugs of beer that one can buy from the makeshift Hoegaarden-esque tents peppered all over the public enclosure.  Suddenly, I felt like the night cleaner who had arrived too early for her shift.  
The "other" main attraction of the mid-week races.
But no matter, being relatively new in the city has its advantages, not least the anonymity it brings to oneself in a uber-social setting such as the one I found myself in.  I gamely made my way to the Parade Ring where the hardcore punters (no ties, loafers, and certainly no beer for these guys) were gathered to get a relatively close-up view of the next race's, well, racers, decked in their owners' colours.  And for the next hour, I had a heady time (even without a sip of Heineken) cheering on the steeds and their jockeys in two races right at the trackside.  I didn't bet a dime but I may well start carrying around my own dog-eared, sweat-stained copy of the racing guide next time I'm on the tram home.
Seeing the parade of the horses and jockeys before they head down to the start of each race
Eye-ballling the steeds
And they're off! 
Love the surreal background of the apartment blocks staggered on the hills surrounding the Valley.


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