Elite Members Club

Expatriates in major cities across Asia have long centered their lives around a coterie of exclusive social clubs. Membership confers the prestige of mingling with a country's elite, the privilege of impressive facilities and the convenience of tapping into a ready-made social circle.


These establishments vary from the city clubs that concentrate on social activities, such as the Bangkok Club, to those with sumptuous sports facilities, such as Hong Kong's Aberdeen Boat Club.


Many are bound together by nationality, including a wide array of American and Japanese clubs, or by profession, such as the bankers clubs and foreign correspondents clubs that turn up in just about every Asian capital city.


Even China has started to develop a club culture of its own with the success of very expensive golf clubs and the China Club in Beijing.


Among all cities in Asia, however, the former crown colony of Hong Kong shows the strongest strain of club culture. These clubs cover a wide range of interests and each one tends to attract a particular group, whether it is the establishment crowd frequenting the Hong Kong Club, the more stylish set at the nearby China Club or the marooned pilots at the Aviation Club. (The club, which still has a hangar, sits at the end of the disused runway of Hong Kong's former Kai Tak airport.)


Few places in Hong Kong retain the stuffy feel of the colonial era more than the Hong Kong Club. Located in the center of the city, the club sits opposite a British-built war memorial and is a short walk from the Legislative Council building, government headquarters, all major banks and several five-star hotels.


Like many Hong Kong clubs, those entering the premises must turn off their mobile phones. Unlike most clubs, guests at the Hong Kong Club must dine wearing a tie. Membership, which is by introduction only, costs 135,000 Hong Kong dollars, or $17,500, to join plus a monthly fee of 1,200 dollars. Facilities include several restaurants and meeting rooms as well as a bar where the city's tycoons are said to strike their biggest deals.


A short walk from the Hong Kong Club is the stylishly decorated China Club. Founded in the period leading up to the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, the China Club brought a breath of fresh air to the club scene. Located on the top floors of the Art Deco-style former headquarters of the Bank of China, the club uses motifs from Hong Kong and Shanghai of the 1930's and 1940's along with the ironic use of Communist Chinese propaganda posters.


Clubs are so popular in Hong Kong that David Tang, a tycoon and the prime mover behind the China Club, recently started a new club in the same building. The Cipriani is a members-only version of the Venetian restaurant Cipriani. Restaurant-based clubs are, in fact, a recent trend, with the Kee Club opening above the Yung Kee Restaurant.


While membership requirements seem quite loose in some city clubs, Hong Kong country clubs have some of the most costly memberships in Asia. The Clearwater Bay Golf Club, for example, requires purchase of a 1.8 million Hong Kong dollar transferable debenture, in addition to a 1,700 dollar monthly fee.


But Hong Kong's economic crisis has not been good for the city's clubs. The Japanese Club has recruited more non-Japanese members, the Portuguese-founded Club Lusitano has eased nationality requirements and at least two prominent clubs have shut down.

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