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Word Travels - Life is a Rush by Robin Esrock
Life is a Rush
by Robin Esrock / Published April 9 2008
Robin's Gonzo report takes it to the edge.
Hong KongJust my luck that AJ Hackett, the lunatic who introduced bungee jumping to the world, decided it was time to really push the limits with the highest commercial bungee in the world. Right here in China's gambling (shh, don't mention gambling) Special Administrative Region of Macau. I hate bloody bungee jumping. It's way too intense, too short, and too bloody bad for my knees, which start shaking and don't seem to stop when even thinking about it. Of all the stupid crazy looks-like-fun things I do, I'm petrified of bungee jumping the most. I don't know why - it's as safe as playing with a yoyo - but the psychological impact of throwing oneself off a bridge is not the same as launching oneself out a plane, or sandboarding down an active volcano. Did I say bridge? What about a TV Tower, piercing the sky at 233m, a full 50m higher than the previous World's Highest Bungee Jump from a Building, the kind of daredevil activity reserved exclusively for fruit-nut bars like Hackett. He held that record until breaking it with this one. So, here I am, of course, here I am, standing on the edge of Macau Tower, about to equal the Guinness Book record for the world's highest bungee jump from a building. Shit Gonzo, talk about taking it to the edge, and then jumping right off the sonofabitch.

Before taking the hour-long ferry to Macau, I spent a few days in China's other Special Administrative Region, Hong Kong. China has a "one country, two policies" mandate towards Hong Kong and Macau, which essentially means it allows Hong Kong to be a capitalist leviathan and Macau to be a gambling (shh, don't mention gambling) behemoth just a few miles from the heavily controlled, Communist People's Republic. The Kong's stock exchange is the 7th largest in the world, generating over one trillion dollars, and Macau is the only place in China where it is legal to gamble (shh) and boy, Chinese love to gamble. Macau has surpassed Vegas as the world's biggest gambling center, generating an incredible US$7.2 Billion in gaming receipts in 2006, compared to US$6.6 billion in Vegas. It's a given that a fair percentage of that moola flows straight to Beijing, so if you've got two golden geese, who's stupid enough to let a little thing like political ideology get in the way? Yes, it's hypocritical and pokes a giant, beautifully corrupt hole in their entire system, but shut the hell up and keep feeding the bird. Ooh, Vegas is investing $2 billion in another casino, come on birdy, lay that sweet shiny egg!

Hong Kong in early November was refreshingly cool. I'd say the autumn leaves were falling, but I hardly saw any leaves. Just people, people, people, everywhere. Neon signs and sharp skyrises lit up like a Christmas trees, stalls selling their mothers for a digital camera in Tsim Sha Tsui, the smell of fried duck mixed in the smog and grease. It's loud and bright, men selling suits and fake watches and restaurants buried in giant buildings with dodgy wiring and grating air-conditioning. At Chungking Mansions, it's reported that over 120 nationalities regularly pass through, a squat building made up of hundreds of cheap flophouses, over 2000 rooms. The sizzle of hallucinogenic neon and steam rising from god-knows-what and technology slams into history and it's no wonder the new Batman movie just started shooting in the city - Hong Kong is all science fiction, a melted pot of world culture driven by commerce, shopping and service. Hookers are aggressively grabbing by arm in Wan Chao, and I tuck into Fenways, where hundreds of freelance Filipino whores battle to land a client for a "short time", and thick US Navy boys with their crew cuts and dumb stares seem only happy to oblige. In Lan Kwai Fong, expats and foreign workers gather in the steep streets drinking themselves silly and shouting themselves hoarse over the barrage of beat breaking out the outdoor patios. Everyone I speak to loves it here, the action, the pace, the cash. This city has the kind of edge that cuts and leaves a scar. Who wouldn't want to be a part of it, even if you have to live in expensive, hamster-sized apartments? I don't want to think about the underbelly of this beast, the sex and drugs and filth, because open that door and you're bound to disappear. In the news, Batman's producers cancel a stunt in the harbour because they could not , in good conscience, allow a stuntman to drop from a helicopter into the water. E-coli, fecal matter, harmful bacteria - it's that polluted. In Hong Kong, you don't bury secrets, you drown them.

Go Rob GoThe lure of the underground is the story here. I don't want to hop on a bus and see a temple, visit this museum, that building, here's a market, there's a garden. I want edge, and that's how I come to be sprinting on a single-gear bike into a costumed crowd of thousands, revelling in the pagan festival of Halloween. Two friends of mine are making a move in Hong Kong, and through their contacts I connect with Brian and Calvin, the organizers of Hong Kong's first Alley Cat race. Alley Cat racing emerges from the North American bike messenger scene - those guys you see racing about cities with walkie-talkies and shoulder bags. They look scruffy and filthy and completely alternative, and we wonder who the hell would do this for a living and why. Surely there's safer ways to earn a living. As usual, it's all a lot more dynamic than it seems. See, those couriers have their own sub-culture, complete with websites and heroes and uniforms. There are those of New York, Toronto, Philadelphia and Vancouver, DC and Chicago, who have carved out legends, surviving tragedies, getting that damn package there on time. There is music, there are parties, there are groupies, there are casualties, and it's all done on a bike with no brakes and no gears. Fixed-gear bikes are favoured by couriers because they're simple to maintain, and when your job involves sprinting into buildings in urban centers, it detracts thieves since these are no ordinary bikes. With fixed gears, the only way to stop is to control the pedals, but it's not like those choppers you had as a kid that brakes by peddling back. It requires precision skill, control, and balls. Jeff, a veteran DC courier who planned HK's first Alley Cat race, tells me: " It's a zen-type thing, the key is to never stop, if you run into a problem, you turn right." It didn't take long for each messenger community to develop races, called Alley Cats, designed to test each courier's knowledge of the city, speed and endurance. Typically, each race consists of checkpoints. Riders get there using whatever route they choose, and once there must perform a task. Their manifesto signed as proof, they bike off to the next checkpoint, avoiding the traffic, crowds and cops as they do so. Thing is, Hong Kong has no messenger community. Long underground tunnels that connect the main island from Kowloon prohibit bikes, and couriers are quicker on subway and foot. So Calvin and Brian, two hip thirtysomething duders, have taken it on themselves to introduce fixed-gear bikes to the city, having followed the sub-culture online for some time now. My buddy Greg is also a fixed-gear nut, but to ensure I survive he provides me with a feather-light single gear racing bike with brakes. We meet up with a half dozen other enthusiasts, grab our checkpoint route and manifesto. I get lost on the way to the starting line, so I trail Greg all the way. Thousands of angels and devils are in the streets, hot Chinese girls in tight maid mini-skirts, black leather and fake blood in abundance. Traffic is heavier than ever, alert cops are on every corner. October 31, the perfect night for an illegal street race.

I follow Greg into the sticky fried duck night. Buses, taxis, cars, mini-buses, and when he pulls into the tram tracks, I feel a gust of wind as Hong Kong's famously thin trams pass by within inches. If my wheel gets caught in the track, if I lose my nerve for a second, I'm tram meat. We sprint across, a sharp corner, straight into thousands of confused pedestrians. Left, another sharp right into oncoming traffic, I hear a cop scream at me but screw it if I brake I'll probably flip and besides, try and catch me you bastard, I'm two blocks and an alley away before you've got your walkie out. There are no waiver forms here bucko, no safety lines and rope checks, just me on a fast bike sprinting towards the headlights of a bus. You can bite hard on this thrill, chew it in your mouth, taste the risk. First checkpoint has two hotties outside a coffee shop, and to complete the task I have to tell them they're "sooo beautiful!" They are, I do, they sign my manifesto, and I'm off. Next stop, the White Stag, I find a big guy named Glenn , call him a ...., and do 10 push-ups to the cheers of the bar patrons. He signs my manifesto, I'm off. Rub 9-ball's head, drink a beer, end up back at the Stag, and nobody cares who won or lost, it's more like who survived and didn't get arrested. We all get props. We all get drunk. The night gets stupid.

Continue reading Robin's Hong Kong and Macau Report at his website:


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