Hemlock's Diary
The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat

25 April-1 May 2004

Sun, 25 Apr
Finally get around to watching a movie I was lent a couple of weeks ago, on a pirated disk – which is the way Jesus would want have wanted it, as one thoughtful reviewer points out.
The Passion of The Christ   Parental Guidance recommended owing to extensive partial nudity (lead role wears nothing but a loincloth for most of the film).  Some racial stereotyping (Jewish mother shows little sympathy for son when he suffers misfortunes).  Some violence.
Mon, 26 Apr
“More suspected SARS cases have been reported in Beijing,” says the early morning voice on the radio.  Still half-asleep, I feel a wave of nostalgia for that wonderful time 12 months ago.  Hong Kong was devoid of tourists – there was room to swing a civet cat as you walked down the street.  Stocks like Cathay Pacific and Giordano were virtually being given away at less than half their current prices.  And the city’s acne-scarred blotchiness vanished from sight, as all but the 17 most handsome, beautiful and intelligent residents covered their faces with surgical masks.  And where, I wonder, did this current outbreak in the glorious motherland start?  On a pig farm?  No.  At an exotic foods market?  No.  In a mongoose-dumpling restaurant?  No.  In part of the country’s Centre for Disease Control?  Stupid question, really.

Today’s least-surprising
                Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress

Dear all happy smiling campers in Hong Kong,

As you will recall, following the world’s fastest-ever ‘extensive consultations with many sectors’, your dedicated Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa sent us a report recommending that your electoral system be changed, but not much.  As a mark of respect for your hard-working and insightful leader, it is our pleasure to say that we agree entirely!  So...  As not every single one of your 6.8 million people can arrive at a consensus on the matter, it goes without saying that the method of universal suffrage shall not be applied in 2007-08.  And anyway, as Hong Kong residents have enjoyed unprecedented democratic rights since the establishment of the HKSAR, you would probably find it a bit too much.  Similarly, since Hong Kong's return to the motherland, the number of directly-elected members in the Legislative Council has been increased remarkably – so, as you will no doubt appreciate, the half by half ratio for members of the Council from functional groups and from constituency election shall remain unchanged.  Other than that, specific methods for selecting the Chief Executive in 2007 and forming the Fourth Legco in 2008 could be appropriately modified.  Say, if you want to change the size of the functional constituencies or the election committee a teeny bit, then feel free to suggest something to us. We are confident that you can all sort that out among yourselves and Mr Tung with a chat over a pleasant cup of tea, quietly, without disturbing your neighbours or requiring us to come down there and do absolutely everything for you. 

With best wishes for lots more gradual and orderly progress in the light of specific conditions,

Tue, 27 Apr
Breakfast at Yuet Yuen restaurant with Winky ‘don’t call me buxom’ Ip, the shapeliest Administrative Officer striding Hong Kong’s corridors of power.  Currently seconded to the Government’s voter registration campaign, she is doing her bit for democracy.  “You mocked,” she says, jabbing chopsticks in my direction. “You said we’d deliberately try not to register voters.  But you’d be surprised. We’re sending forms out, registering people on the street, fixed the website – I reckon we’ll have pulled in 200,000 more voters by mid-May.”  I congratulate her on so successfully convincing people to register for votes that can’t change anything – a lucrative career in marketing awaits Winky, should she ever venture into the private sector.  “Actually,” I tell her as I gentlemanly spoon her favourite cuts of chicken from my congee into hers, “it’s probably a good thing we’re not getting democracy, isn’t it?  We could end up electing a terrible-quality government.  A leader who is indecisive, who panders to interest groups, who panics under pressure, who has no intellectual grasp of policy issues and no apparent political or economic principles, who listens only to people who tell him what he wants to hear, and who appoints unqualified or arrogant ministers.  Can you imagine what Hong Kong would be like?”  She sucks the skin off my generously donated bird claw.  “Yes that sounds dreadful,” she agrees.  “God – we could even end up electing someone with a bad hair cut and absolutely zero political skills!”  We both shudder at the thought.

Wed, 28 Apr
When all our other pro-Beijing tycoons are dangling from lampposts, Ronnie Chan will surely be able to joke his way out of death at the hands of the masses.  The thinking man’s James Tien, he never fails to amuse.  The US passport-holding former Enron director and scourge of pro-democrats contributes to Hong Kong’s prosperity in the usual way, leeching wealth out of the productive economy as a second-tier player in the property development cartel.  But he does it with a cheeky grin, while his peers sport humourless scowls or nervous, witless smiles.  And Ronnie says what he thinks.  He thinks democracy is bad for cartels, so we mustn’t have it.  Simple enough.  He is a prominent member of the NPC Standing Committee supporters club, telling anyone who will listen that the recent interpretation of the Basic Law is a superb example of the rule of law.  On the subject of which, he now
tells us that he is pulling out of new business in Shanghai, the city that is forever overtaking Hong Kong, because it “…can get tricky if there are no proper laws around and authorities can change things as they go along and make extra demands. This is not easy and business is tough. I'd be a fool to do more new developments in Shanghai now.”  Such disarming honesty surely makes him our best hope for the next Chief Executive. Henry Tang is a bear of little brain – Tung Chee-hwa with a smattering of social skills. CY Leung performs satanic rituals in a luxury apartment on Conduit Road, slaughtering goats on an altar and eating babies.  Peter Woo would intern students in stadiums, make the police wear jackboots and put huge pictures of himself everywhere.  It’s got to be Ronnie – the man who can make low-IQ plutocracy fun.
Thurs, 29 Apr
In the morning meeting at the top of S-Meg Tower, an irritable Big Boss flings an envelope at me.  “Everyone’s got to support this NPC Standing Committee thing – excellent for Hong Kong and all that.  Read this stuff and tell me what to say.”  Back in my lair, I notice that the package has a slightly oily feel, betraying its origins in the office of Stephen Lam, the messenger boy-cum-Policy Secretary at the Bureau for Constitutional Affairs.  Some of the contents are in ugly, unfathomable simplified Chinese, suggesting that they come from further away.  Others offer ample background information on the clear and undeniable legal rights of the Standing Committee to control the entire universe, and why the Basic Law means the opposite of what Mainland officials said 15 years ago.  A thoughtful spin doctor has included a long list of ‘suggested lines to take’ on such unsavoury topics as universal suffrage, meaning that the company gwailo’s job has been done for him.  Wonderful.  There is even helpful advice on what
not to say.  “Hong Kong people too immature” – wrong.  “Hong Kong political system too immature” – correct.   So the traditional Leninist united front tactics naively grind into action, attempting to isolate the tiny, dwindling number of pro-democrats, rallying the other 99 percent of Hong Kong’s docile, unthinking middle class round to the notion that it’s best if they don’t have an alternative to marching on the street, and they don’t need to march on the street, either. 

It would work in Singapore.  But Hong Kong is different, and no sooner does the united front try to make us all into one big, blissfully disenfranchised pro-Beijing family, than we get a barrage of conflicting messages.  Chris Patten’s old running dog, former Chief Secretary
Anson Chan, announces that she shares everyone’s disappointment at recent events and advises us not to give up the fight for democracy.  Up in Beijing, personable Premier Wen Jiabao sympathetically assures us that universal suffrage for Hong Kong remains national policy.  Closer to home, schoolgirls' heartthrob Ronnie Chan stoutly declares otherwise.  Who can doubt we would thrive under a Chief Executive so willing to stand up to Beijing?  Go Ronnie!

Fri, 30 Apr
Sipping our organic loganberry-cinnamon-gingko biloba yogurts outside the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee, wild American friend Odell and I watch the dainty, the adorable and the disgusting march across Exchange Square to another day’s work in the office.  “Aiee yah – look at those buttocks,” says the ex-Mormon as a large blonde woman waddles past, Starbucks cup in hand.  I glance briefly and turn back to him.  “So how did you um…get that black eye?” I ask.  Slightly embarrassed, he describes an altercation last night in the pub in Lan Kwai Fong with a loud, youngish Brit who kept saying “egg zackly, mate” and referred to Americans as ‘septics’.  I cringe.  I can imagine the type.  “Why didn’t you just tear gas the imbecile?” I demand.  “He’s working class – they don’t feel much pain – but it would’ve shut him up.”  Odell nods and mumbles something about leaving his pepper spray at home.  He then changes the subject by reading out loud from the paper.  “
Donald Tsang says Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy has not been undermined whatsoever.  Society has become more open and more free than in 1997.”  Various questions come to mind.  How many Hail Mary’s will he of the bow tie get for that, next time he goes to confession?   Or can he justify breaking the ninth commandment on the grounds that he has to, because he’s our only hope for a Chief Executive who’s at all competent?  Has he got a special dispensation from Bishop Zen to tell lies for a higher cause?  And what chance does he really think he has, when Beijing has numerous inexperienced and incapable scions of old-economy dynasties – untouched by the Vatican’s anti-motherland conspiracy, untainted by the mark of fellow-Holy Roman Chris Patten, untroubled by any concept of truth – to choose from?