Has it sunk? Has it capsized? Is it still floating somewhere off the waters off Paracel Islands in the South China Sea detached from its tug boat? What exactly is the final fate of Jumbo, the iconic floating restaurant that has been moored in Hong Kong’s Aberdeen Harbour since 1976, serving as a backdrop in Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun and playing host to the likes of the Queen (although technically these moments took place on Jumbo’s sister restaurant, Tai Pak, which is currently an abandoned ghost shipwreck still moored in the harbour).
Woolly misinformation aside, the news that Jumbo is potentially unsalvageable has hit Hong Kong hard. A sunken Jumbo is the perfect metaphor for Hong Kong’s perceived demise as it stutters out of pandemic restrictions alongside the ongoing tightening of Chinese national security laws. It has spawned memes of the mock-Imperial Palace vessel sinking beneath a doomed Hong Kong skyline. It sits in a celestial heaven with a halo floating above its famous green and red façade as imagined by IG account @SurrealHK. It is now being forensically mourned as authorities call for a clear explanation as to what has happened.
Jumbo’s OTT Ming Dynasty-kitsch was perfect tourist fodder, attracting millions of visitors over four decades. You wouldn’t have gone there for the food but for the ambiance. Similar to when I used to go to Goldfinch Restaurant, which is prominently featured in Wong Kar-wai’s seminal In the Mood for Love, and eat inevitably overcooked steak while admiring the verdant leaf print walls and bow-tie kitted waiters. Goldfinch, too, is sadly no longer operating due to rent increases. My impressions of old Hong Kong are informed by pre-handover days of supposed glory. When people imagined the city to be a perfect fusion of East and West, with its penchant for strong milk tea and egg and Spam sandwiches (in itself that becomes a traversing curiosity in the UK). When I used to say misguided things such as, ‘If you haven’t been to China, Hong Kong is a great start.’
The mourning of the decline of these physical manifestations of ‘Old Hong Kong’, be it a dying restaurant or custom, has been further punctuated by how friends from Hong Kong have turned up in London, fleeing from stifling Covid restrictions and this air of doom. They echo the sentiments of the memes. They may not have ever stepped foot on Jumbo but they’re tethered to this gilded albatross nonetheless.
They’re the privileged few who can gallivant around the world to their adopted homes or holiday pads. I’m in deeper awe of those who have taken the plunge to apply for a British National (Overseas) visa, a scheme set up by the Government here to offer a path to citizenship for three million eligible Hong Kong citizens — and make an uncertain move to a country they won’t have familiar, or familial, ties to. More than 100,000 people have done so, a few of whom I’ve met while running Dot Dot bubble tea in Stoke Newington (shameless plug for my lockdown side hustle). They’ve unshackled themselves from memories of pantyhose tea and Spam sarnies and like so many immigrants who have landed on these shores, have simply got on with it. One of our key team members, Chelsea, who can churn out cookies and cakes at a frighteningly efficient pace, was particularly no-nonsense. ‘We just didn’t really think too deep about it. Hong Kong has changed. End of. And this will be our home.’