Friday, June 23, 2006

The Colonial Club

Today, as I was changing some of the audio content of our Central walking tour, and began to contemplate the Hong Kong Club.

Now the colonial 'Club' was far more than just a place to hang your hat and have a drink. It was meant to be a haven from the oppressive Asiatic heat, indeed from the Asiatics, and from all of the debilitating diseases and rotten inconveniences that one would never have to put up with 'back home.' I write satirically, of course, but that was exactly how the colonials felt about their Club - an institution that was meant, in some small way, to evoke an ideal image of 'home', as much as possible in a far-flung tropical clime.

Now British colonial society was in some ways a microcosm of social snobbery of home too - except that the far reduced numbers of Britons in any given colony meant that one became even more excruciatingly aware of one's position on the social ladder, and no effort was spared to climb it. A key determinant of where you were on the social ladder was the Club you belonged to, because that told the rest of the world who you considered your peers - and even more importantly, who thought of you as a social equal. The Hong Kong Club in Hong Kong, was the elite institution to which only the taipans, powerbrokers and highest officials could gain entry. As one might expect, membership to women and to 'Asiatics' was entirely prohibited for much of its existence, certainly before the war.

I shall close today's blog entry with a lovely quote from George Orwell, writing in the opening chapter of his wonderful book Burmese Days:
...when one looked at the Club — a dumpy one-storey wooden building — one looked at the real centre of the town. In any town in India the European Club is the spiritual citadel, the real seat of the British power, the Nirvana for which native officials and millionaires pine in vain. It was doubly so in this case, for it was the proud boast of Kyauktada Club that, almost alone of Clubs in Burma, it had never admitted an Oriental to membership.

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