After the third costume change of his show, Aaron Kwok strode from the midst of a gaggle of backup dancers to the front of the stage, rearing his head back. A skintight, white-sleeved top hugged his body and broadcast each gasping breath as he sang a sweet melody of love and loss in Cantonese. Thousands of voices in the crowd sang along, and the arena shook with their impassioned pleas
This wasn't a telecast being beamed from Hong Kong, but rather it was arguably Asia's most popular pop star of the past 20 years performing live in New England.
Yes, Kwok — who rose to fame in the early 1990s as a "Heavenly King" of Hong Kong's syrupy Cantonese pop-music scene, and who has sold millions of albums and routinely headlines massive shows around the world — had come to Connecticut. Kwok's 2009 world tour included a North American leg, during which he played two shows this past Sunday, one at 2 am and the other at 2 pm, at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville.
This was reason enough for celebration in Boston's Chinatown, from which a virtual Chinese diaspora (including myself, a half-Chinese native of Hong Kong) boarded a phalanx of buses and headed southwest in mechanized migratory formation. On board, people read newspapers, conversed in Mandarin, and sang out loud in Cantonese.
Two hours later, Mohegan Sun announced itself without hint, its glass high-rise jutting incongruously above a canopy of trees. A stream of buses pulled into the loading bay, and people clambered off quickly and dashed into the lobby, yelling at one another in Mandarin and in Cantonese through the cigarette smoke.
"Where's the bathroom?"
"Where's the baccarat table?"
Kwok's pull was enormous: from the coat check to the food court, almost everyone in the casino was Chinese.
The food court itself boasted a menu loaded with staples of Hong Kong cuisine. Roast duck and roast pork hung on hooks behind glass, and the sizzle of a wok was audible above the din. The gambling tables between the dining area and the arena where Kwok was slated to play featured the Chinese game of pai gow. Each table was filled with Chinese gamblers and Chinese dealers. Between the tables, Chinese pit bosses prowled small patches of carpet.
And then, at 2 pm, the crowd surged toward the arena. As thousands of people filled the seats, Kwok rose from the depths of the stage in an explosion of glitter and song, wearing the very Daisy Buchanan–meets–Blade Runner costume that was depicted on the promotional posters plastered throughout Chinatown.
Halfway through his energetic two-hour set, Kwok wiped the sweat from his brow and addressed the crowd in Cantonese. "I've traveled far to be here in America, and I'm happy to see so many Chinese people." The crowd roared. Kwok squinted through the spotlight. "And I can't forget there may be some non-Chinese friends here, too."
Kwok was too polite. Simply said, the only non-Chinese people in the arena were the ushers. And they had no idea what he had just said.
When the show was over and Kwok descended into the bowels of the stage in a sequined flash, the house lights came on and the crowd made a beeline for the dazzle of the casino floor. There was time for one more round of pai gow before getting on the next bus and heading home.