For the first time since coming to Hong Kong in early 2003, I ate at a restaurant in "Rat Alley" this evening. It's round the back of Lan Kwai Fong ("the Fong"), an area in Central packed with bars and restaurants. It goes by the name Rat Alley because, plainly, it looks like an alley a rat would run along. But it's full of Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants, and plastic chairs and awnings, and people filing by with mobile phones clamped to their ears, and touts trying to entice you in, with a not-all-that-attractive routine involving shouting, gesturing, and holding up the menu either aggressively or plaintively.
I was there with J, from work, and we sat at a tiny table right on the street, next to a potted plant which kept on getting knocked over, and with a ringside view of a particularly hirsute Elvis-esque tout who seemed to know everyone, gwailos (westerners), little Thai girls with fat white western men, western women, Chinese men, everyone passing by an arm's length away. The food was an amalgam of Chinese, Vietnamese and Malaysian - so perhaps there's actually only one kitchen out the back for all the shopfronts and you get what's served.
I'm not often out on a Friday night; after work I tend to want to go home and regroup before the weekend. There seems to be a lot of people on the streets looking for someone - you can see it in their eyes; they're never quite satisfied with who they're with. I found it quite dispiriting.