Shatin New Town Plaza’s Burlesque Mercenaries

Compared with Festival Walk shopping mall in Kowloon Tong which, for some deliciously elfish conjuncture’s reason, has been closed down just on time before Christmas after a fire had been lit up by protesters, New Town Plaza shopping mall in Shatin, traditionally more humble than the latter, has been upgraded to a commercial fortress level. Since I have to cross this mall everytime – the MTR metro station exit has been craftily placed at the bottom of the mall so that all passengers had to cross the shopping area to get to other directions – I also have to witness the rejoicing aspects of a place where every detail has been set up to bring people to spending money, especially during times before Christmas, but in a political context which brings everything to a burlesque level.

One of these elements is the fact that sentries and guards have been hired by the company that runs the shopping mall, from the moment when Hong Kong protesters started small protests around and inside the shopping mall as retaliatory measures against the mall administration for having let riot police agents get inside once when they were chasing protesters. I am not really sure the presence of these guards really change anything to the security inside the mall, but what is certain is that I can’t miss them in the shoppers crowd. They are apparently muscular men with foreigner roots – no local Han has apparently been chosen to do the job of making a physical impression – and they wear terrible fluorescent vests or jackets sometimes, like the ones used by the press during the Hong Kong protests, or the ones used by the yellow vests protesters in my native country. They have been placed at different areas of the shopping mall so that nobody can miss them. And I suspect that the reason for them to be here is not actual and efficient security, but rather to give the impression to shoppers and mainland tourists, that the situation here is under control and everyone is going to be protected. Go and shop in peace. And don’t forget your credit card.

The mercenaries have so well assimilated the role they are playing, that they actually keep an eye on people crossing by, and especially on foreigners like me. When I cross the area holding my cruiser board under one arm, I usually get the darkest glances. I sometimes feel like trying to get into a trendy bar or nightclub, when I am wearing ripped jeans and sneakers and the guard at the entrance, after having checked me from up to bottom, sends me this hopeless smile which means I’m not going to get in – this happened to me tons of times in my own country, especially in Paris and Aix-en-Provence. But here is Shatin, Hong Kong. It’s the area where I live. And it’s the shopping mall that I have been forced to cross to get back home. I should be compassionate with people whose job is to wait standing in such a place and look with arrogance at people crossing by. But I can’t really pity someone who is using physical muscles to get money from scaring people.

When Christmas season starts in Hong Kong shopping malls – and it usually starts around one month and half before the actual Christmas season – supermarkets and commercial centers start to be invaded by these ridiculous, cheesy and tasteless Christmas traditional songs that we had unfortunately learnt since always. Shatin New Town Plaza brings no exception to this rule. And what was really a reason for my last mockery today, was the moment of contemplation I had, on the extreme violence of having aggressive-sighted mercenaries standing in the shopping mall, reminding us the tricky political situation that has actually been framing all our social behaviors these last months, and that childish, cute but silly Christmas high-pitched melody of Jingle Bells played like a wav file music, that we have to hear each time we cross or shop in the area.

I can’t understand how people who are running this kind of place, don’t realize how violent is the whole package. But they still think that pink plastic decorations, glitter and flashy screens, and silly melodies can be used as make up to hide the cracks and walls leprosy which are slowly destroying the social and political bases of this shopping paradise. Anyway, with burlesque mercenaries like these, the make up will go flaking more and more for sure. But Christmas must go on.

Jean-Sébastien Desnanot

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