Thursday, 14 October 2010

Gregarious Night at the Races

Horse racing + Oktoberfest = Big Party
For three Wednesdays in October, the Hong Kong Jockey Club is celebrating Oktoberfest -- and this year is the 200th anniversary of the beer fest which gives people even more reason to party.

When I got to the Happy Valley race stands after 7:30pm last night, the public stand area was packed with people, many carrying plastic pitchers of beer and big plastic cups.

Oktoberfest fare: sausages, sauerkraut and potatoes
As I was hungry, we lined up for food... which took over 30 minutes as the line snaked around and around before ending up at the cafeteria-style counter. Of course we had sausages with sauerkraut and potatoes. As it was so busy, the food was already placed in sectioned off plates so it was impossible to enjoy hot food. We even had to eat standing up. Luckily some Chinese punters invited us to stand near them where there was a bit of counter space for us. For dessert, we had apple pancakes with a thick, sweet caramel sauce. Again, would have been better if they were hot.

A giant pretzel, anyone?
Those who were extremely ravenous could get a metre-wide pretzel for HK$100 ($12.88). We wondered who would buy that, but also how long would it take to eat it all.

Nevertheless, the lively atmosphere outside was too interesting not to check out. There were several beer tents serving all kinds of beers, a beer drinking contest, a chance to see how long you could hold up four ceramic mugs full of beer -- the minimum was 90 seconds. Another was sliding a ceramic beer mug onto some circles to win a prize, and another test to see if you could find four matching beer labels.

One guy trying to keep his beers up
In the meantime people -- mostly foreigners -- were downing lots of beer and smoking away, soaking up the atmosphere.

All this was happening while horse races were going on.

I wondered if the horses were bothered by all the commotion going on near the grandstands or they were too focused on what they were doing. Some of the races were quite spectacular, where some horses were trailing behind and then in the last stretch managed to overtake the leader to win. It's a tricky gamble because you have to be able to time it right, but also know that your horse is going to beat the others. But they definitely made for dramatic wins.

In my time in Hong Kong I don't think I've ever seen so many people at the racetrack before, but also so many foreigners. They were most definitely there for the beer, the horse racing second. Many of them didn't seem to care or notice the races were going on.

The crowd erupts in cheers as the horses pass the finish line
As the Hong Kong Jockey Club is trying hard to lure younger people it has certainly done it with Oktoberfest. But is this crowd of beer drinkers -- kind of an upscale frat party -- who they really want?

Nevertheless it was a good evening and enough beer for me for a while.

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