| June 8, 2009 at 02:01 am
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Pawn shops are a common sight in the old parts of Hong Kong. There are at least 170 scattered around town. They are legitimate businesses, with the name of the owner of the shop posted outside the door. They are also well-established (Chun Yuen Pawnshop in Yuen Long village was established in 1800), regularly policed (the Commissioner of Police is the chief regulator) and governed by laws (under the Money Lenders Ordinance). Many pawn shops have red and green neon signs in the shape of a bat holding a coin (such as one in the Wing Po Pawn Shop) to attract customers. Sometimes the owner just plasters the name of the shop as many times as possible in the front of the shop (in the case of the Man Shing Pawn Shop that would appear to be at least five times in Chinese and once in English, while the Tung Cheong Pawn Shop has gone for the fake gold look). The counter is heavily barred and is above head-height to provide security. The doorway itself is interesting because there is usually a screen between the door and the counter where any exchanges take place. This is to ensure that patrons are not accidently spied by passing relatives or friends. After all, in money obsessed Hong Kong, pawning your Rolex is the worst loss of face imaginable. Of course, the economic downturn has also encouraged an increase in burglaries in Hong Kong (+8% in 2008), with pawn shops a good place to convert lifted jewellery into ready cash. Porn shops, on the other hand, are much more difficult to find. You may need to delve into the back alleys of Wanchai to find them. I’ve never tried looking. However, there is one porn shop, prominently displaying its wares, in busy Causeway Bay (across the street from the giant screen outside Times Square). It’s called Sexual Well-Being Store and is situated on the third floor of a commercial building. I noticed its neon runner and the word – lubricant - while waiting for my wife at the bottom of the escalators coming out of Times Square. Whereas pawn shops are probably doing a roaring trade in the current economic downturn, the SWBS is possibly not doing as well, as the couples that have had to go to pawn shops are not likely to be in the mood to visit a porn shop (although the old man being escorted by a mid-aged women in the Man Shing Pawn Shop picture appears to be contradicting this notion as the couple seem to be tenderly making their way to the world-renowned, six-star, Kam Tai Hotel for a bit of hourly rest and recreation).