Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
26 October-1 November 2003
Sun, 26 Oct
A barbecue at the Peak home of socialite and art gallery owner Rosabelle Lam.  I arrive early, get the usual, cheek-kissing, lovely-to-see-you-daahling routine and join Rosabelle in overseeing the final preparations on the lawn.  A sushi chef is preparing the tools of his trade.  A grill master is lighting charcoal.  A bartender checks an array of bottles and glasses. A Filipina pours bags of ice over cases of champagne.  Her compatriot places a large glass bowl full of packets of cigarettes and lighters on a table.  Doing my bit, I light candles, put them on silver dishes and set them adrift on the swimming pool.  Then I put charcoal and resin in the censers swinging from the trees.  By the time the sun goes down, there are maybe 50 guests, among whom I drift for four hours.  Some I know, some I don't.  The Belgian and Korean couple, in advertising and interior décor, who buy ecstasy from their teenage daughter.  The eternally youthful – if you don't look too closely – personal trainer and yoga teacher.  A suave Italian straight out of central casting, who runs Asian operations for a luxury goods company. A cosmetic surgeon who claims Ming dynasty imperial lineage.  A young British investment banker droning on about some rugby game.  A man who rejoices in the job title of VP Regional Distribution (Solvents) and says his wife is at the Air Supply concert.  After two minutes of his company, I understand why.

Mon, 27 Oct
The foundations of S-Meg Tower shudder as the Big Boss on the 20th floor delivers his fist to the table with a force of around 3 or 4 on the Richter scale. No-one at the morning meeting – including the visionary tycoon himself – is entirely sure what the problem is.  He’s in one of those moods, like
Sir Henry at Rawlinson End – “I don’t know what I want, but I want it now!”  He hurls a piece of paper in my direction.  “Go to this rubbish on my behalf.”  It’s an invitation from the Business and Professional Bores Federation of Hong Kong to attend a conference on Friday entitled “Why Shanghai?  A Closer Economic Partnership Under CEPA”.  Why Shanghai?  The title inadvertently hits the nail on the head.  It’s just a Third World dump, with exchange controls, censorship, no law and an array of tacky skyscrapers intended to give gullible observers the impression that the place hosts important business like Hong Kong, if not London or New York.  But the conference will be one of those surreal events where the politically correct mingle with the shallow to take this fake financial centre seriously, like the loyal subjects who admired the emperor’s new clothes.  I can only put it down to excessive use of hallucinogenic substances in senior levels of Government.  “Why not Timbuctoo?” would be an equally valid question. “What did I do to deserve this?” would be another.  Still, I have four days in which to arrange something less tedious, like some root canal work.

Just days after the first rumours, new magazine
Spike appears in the form of a soft launch.  Any similarity to the UK's Private Eye in terms of design or overall concept is pure coincidence. So long as no-one remembers that the idea of Betty Tung's Diary dates back to Not The South China Morning Post, it'll be fine.
Tue, 28 Oct
No sooner has the Liberal Party launched its campaign to attract voters, than some despicable cad reminds
SCMP columnist Jake van der Kamp of a long-forgotten interview in which the group’s chief reptile, James Tien, revealed his true beliefs.  Unless you inherited a fortune from Daddy, the ridiculous Tien said in essence, you are too stupid to vote.  No doubt such rugged views will go down well among the party’s target recruits, the Hong Kong middle class, some of whose penniless parents swam shark-infested waters in order to raise a family here.  I feel sorry for Jake’s informant – he has obviously never been pinned against a wall by the luscious Selina Chow when she is in a bad mood.  It sounds like fun, but the novelty soon wears off – unlike the stains in one's James Tien For Mensa Chairman T-shirt.  I can’t help wondering how many more embarrassing quotes lie buried in old newspaper clippings.  It would be terrible if they came to light and next year’s Legco election degenerated into vicious, below-the-belt, anti-Liberal, negative campaigning.
Wed, 29 Oct
Standing outside Marks and Spencers, waiting to cross Queen's Road to the Landmark, I hear a loud, dull thud on the ground just next to me.  Along with a dozen or so fellow pedestrians, I look down and see dust settling around a plump and very dead pigeon.  I look up. The M&S building has a completely flat façade.  The feathered creature must simply have plummeted from the sky.  Did it have a heart attack in mid-flight, as so many of us do in this stress-filled financial district?  Was it dropped reluctantly by a bird of prey, mindful of its own diet-related cardiac problems?   Or was it suicide, a desperate cry for help by the avian equivalent of Cantopop star Leslie Cheung?  We will never know.  Just another story from the Naked City.
Thurs, 30 Oct
Sitting outside Exchange Square early in the morning, ex-Mormon friend Odell is seething with anger after a “snotty Brit” – one Dennis – has failed to pay him for several weeks’ freelance work.  “Apparently he’s done it to other people before,” he says.  He wrings his hands slowly, deep in malignant thought.  “He’ll do it to others.”  He takes a sip of his raspberry, celery and ginger juice and looks up at me.  “Know what I’m thinking?”  An alarm bell goes off in my head.  “You’re not serious,” I say.  He nods slowly.  “Oh yes I am.  This calls for … the Ultimate Punishment.”  I take a deep breath.  Like a nuclear weapon, the Ultimate Punishment is a last resort.  And, like a nuke, it depends on a chain reaction.  The difference is, no-one can predict the size of the conflagration.  Odell hands me two of the offender’s business cards, and a scrap of paper with his home number and address, to be memorised and swallowed.  “Don’t use these for a few
weeks.  He’s in Bangkok next week – I’ve sent some to a friend there.”  Between now and Christmas, more than one charming “Dennis” will woo (if necessary) and probably bed dusky ladies of humble means, giving his card adoringly to them, and asking not to be called at work.  Mrs Dennis will receive mysterious phone calls at home from women who might hang up, or might scream abuse about the lying, two-timing cheat.  Mrs Dennis will find, and surely open, at least one perfumed envelope from the Thai capital, containing a photo of a Patpong belle and a badly composed expression of undying love, possibly with a coy request for funds, rounded off with a loud-coloured lipstick kiss.  “He’s dead meat,” says Odell, putting several more cards back in his pocket.
Fri, 31 Oct
Strolling through Central, I am barely conscious of the lead-lined underpants I am wearing as protection against the geomagnetic storms and solar flares viciously assaulting our plucky little planet.  Pedants waylay me, insisting that pigeons are more likely to fly into glass-covered skyscrapers by mistake than to make a conscious decision to take their own lives.  Outside the Legislative Council building, I find foam sticking to my shoes – the residue of a week’s frothing at the mouth over the stale Harbour Fest.  Eager for fresher meat, wolves are
starting to circle Michael Wong, who replaced Anna Wu as boss of the Equal Opportunities Commission and fired his number-two for having superior expertise.  I am not convinced that they are really smelling blood, but their panting and drooling promise gruesome entertainment.  And what will come after that?  Tung Chee-hwa is turning into an object of pity – punched, prodded and poked by the baying crowd.  The slow fat kid being set upon by the rest of the class in one of those sub-human bullying frenzies that only children can stomach.  He has just three years, eight months and one day of this left to go.  The “Dump Tung” campaign is dead – not simply because the tycoons are obeying orders from Beijing to support the crop-haired one, but because it’s redundant.  Tung is dumped already. A crumpled heap, staggering to his feet only to lurch into another disaster.  Behind the scenes, cautious and nervous strangers talk.  Tycoons talk to Democrats, who talk to the more respectable type of social activists, who talk to tycoons.  This place has to be run somehow.  Meanwhile, I have a short-term quandary.  Do I go to this afternoon’s conference on “Why Shanghai?  A Closer Economic Partnership Under CEPA”?  Or do I goof off and go to the pub before all the amateurs and riffraff come out to bob for apples, or whatever people do these days on Halloween?  A tough one.