As humans, our track record of leaving things, people and places behind is very high. We do this for all kinds of reasons, often very good ones.
And while change is healthy, and we must go ever onwards, it’s also tempting to look back from time to time.
There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all – In My Life – The Beatles
Many people find abandoned places to be full of mysteries and echoes of things past, and who doesn’t find a crumbling, empty vine-covered house with broken windows more romantic and evocative than a solid, occupied structure?
Food or drink can often trigger emotional memories, and you can come to associate certain tastes and textures with people, places and things. Mix cheap vodka with Roses Lime Cordial and I sharply recollect teenage music gigs in a provincial market town, especially if you throw in the scent of Hard Rock Hairspray and menthol cigarettes.
Walking through an abandoned village in China put me in a nostalgic mood, and I decided to recreate a lost cocktail from the past.
If you want to visit the spooky lost village of Pak-A, it’s too simple. As long as you’re in Hong Kong, anyway.
From Central Hong Kong, take the MTR train to Diamond Hill and take bus 92 from the bus terminus to Sai Kung Town which is in the middle of nowhere and where I recommend you visit the waterside restaurant Hung Kee with the tanks of living seafood outside – including huge dark fish the size of dolphins – and have lunch.
Then take a taxi (red taxis are city taxis, green taxis are local, which is what you want). Ask them to take you to Pak-A, and then sit back and watch as every sign of civilization falls away and you are left with nothing but winding roads through tropical brush, with occasional glimpses of water in the distance.
Eventually you reach a rusty sign pointing down a paved trail, and you can set off down the mountainside. If you are wise, you will ask the taxi driver for a number to call for the return journey.
The trail winds down gradually to the waterfront with the only sounds your own footfalls, and the calls of a great many birds. There may be some disturbing rustling in the undergrowth. Do not question this. Roughly halfway, you officially pass from Hong Kong district into mainland China.
When you reach the village, you creep around nervously at first, noting the evidence of – surely – recent occupation? It’s a tiny hamlet based around a jetty and a waterfront bar.
Welcome to Lost Party Town, population= you.
The droppings of wild boar lay scattered on the ground. No birds sang in the village.
We found an especially gruesome obsolete party chimp in a pile of rubbish, also a huge faux pineapple.
Pak-A was not our original intended destination. We planned to use it as a starting point to trek to another abandoned resort at Tai She Wan which, it was rumoured, was populated with rusty animatronic animals.
We found an encouraging signpost and headed off optimistically, but every trail petered out and ended in broken-down rustic shrines filled with jars of human ashes. These areas were clearly haunted, so we kept moving. After getting quite badly tangled in vines after trying one final dark path, we had to admit that Tai She Wan was no longer accessible by land.
The trail back up to the road is much harder going back, as you are essentially climbing a mountain, but eventually you can collapse weakly roadside before calling a taxi back to the town. Try to avoid wandering cows.
We didn’t drink on this trip, but the ideal cocktail for me to have sipped at that dusty, cracked and warping bar would have been a Bleeding Cleopatra.
Back at home, our favourite local restaurant in London was always LMNT, and it had a disco Eygyptian-Greco-French theme.
A gigantic golden sphinx dominated the space, and you could sit in a tiny room at the top of a winding stair, or in a huge terracotta bottle, making pretend you were a witches imp. The walls were painted with hieroglyphics and zodiac signs – apart from the bathrooms which had a Roman hard-core porn vibe.
We went there often, and tried every cocktail on the menu – Egyptian Orgy, Perpetual Sphinx, Dragonfly, Sahara on the Snow – but my favourite was the Bleeding Cleopatra, which I have tried to recreate from memory:
The Bleeding Cleopatra
1 oz Midori
1/2 oz Absinthe
2 oz Pineapple juice
A glace cherry and a thin spiral of lemon peel (which I always ate up, as if I was some kind of starveling zoo creature).
Pour the absinthe into a champagne flute, add the Midori and pineapple juice, then top off with ice cold Cava. Dribble a tiny amount of grenadine into the drink. Garnish with the cherry and a lemon spiral.
Drink, bathed in the rosy glow of nostalgia.
A few years ago LMNT shut down, and now it has been reopened as a standard gastro pub which you couldn’t pick out of a lineup if you had a gun to your head.
Like the village of Tai She Wan, it belongs to the past now, swallowed up as easily as a Bleeding Cleopatra.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Ozymandias – Percy Shelley