The Dublin Jack on Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong is patronised mostly by those seeking home-reminding pints of draught bitter and you-know-what stout. Philip, whom I had just met at a client’s, took me there on a warm April evening in 2002. He was interesting, not only because he was a young techhead with ever-changing life objectives – both qualities beyond me – but also have you ever met an Ulster-accented Chinese man? Well, he was your man.
The pub doors were bursting, drinkers of all ages, sex and colour spilling on to the pavement. Entry was guarded by a young Irishman in a white shirt, tie and black trousers. Hands up, he stopped me.
‘Would you be having an invite?’
‘A private party it is, in there, and only by invite.’
‘Well, we don’t have one but this is a pub, we’re bloody thirsty, and we have come a long way.’ Two out of three, but he didn’t know that, so cross fingers.
‘In that case, you must be going in. And the beer’s free,’ said the guard, looking to and fro in fear of witness to such dereliction of duty.
Free beer? And such was the case, you only had to jostle your way through the press to the counter for ready-drawn Kilkenny or Guinness, sweep off one of the many foaming glasses, and hey presto!
Outside as I handed over a pint, I asked Philip, ‘Is this a dream?’
Unblinkingly, he accepted this unheard-of occurrence phlegmatically. ‘What do you mean?’
For all his Belfast brogue he was at heart Chinese, expressionless even in the face of serendipitously gratis grog. But for me, whilst we supped outside in the tropical evening and our glasses emptied, I pondered about whether I could get back in to this Shangri-la.
‘Do you think we can try it on again?’ I asked him, who had been drinking alongside me in more or less silence.
‘Why not?’ Which was about as far as his excitement got.
‘I’ll go,’ I replied, even though it was his turn.
Barring the way was a different Hibernian, a little older, but again with the white shirt and business, ‘Would you be having an invite?’
‘Er, I was in there a little while ago.’
‘Sure, in that case, I must have let you in before.’ Yes, that was exactly what he said.
And so the beer flowed free for Philip and me, and at a might-have-been fifty Hong Kong bucks a pint, it was among the sweetest I ever tasted.
Some hours later, I took the night flight home to Sydney. I never saw Philip again and like me, I don’t suppose he came across free Guinness again.