Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
28 December 2003-3 January 2004
Sun, 28 Dec
Wild American friend Odell seeks refuge at Perpetual Opulence Mansions while his wife Mee hosts a loud, pentatonal gathering of Thai women in their home.  In return for bringing a six-pack of inconsequential Cascade beer, he presumes the right to switch off William Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices and hunt through my CD collection for something more to his taste.  “Don’t you have any Dire Straits, or the Eagles?” he asks.  I put on my best why-would-I-want-that? face.  I pull the Violent Femmes and Martha and the Muffins off the shelves.  “This is the closest I’ve got,” I tell him.  After a few beers, with Country Death Song playing, Odell lowers his head.  “Am I going bald?” he asks the floor.  There is no doubt about it.  “Yes, here,” I say, running my fingertip round a one-inch wide patch of almost hairless scalp.  Mee has told him the same, he laments.  “Don’t worry – it’s normal, it’s harmless, and there’s nothing you can do,” I reassure him.  “Going bald is simply nature’s way of saying ‘I want you to have a shiny head and look stupid’.” Blunt, honest truth.  This is what friends are for.

Tue, 30 Dec
A cultural gap reveals itself in S-Meg Holdings early in the morning.  Secretaries, clerks and assorted epsilons stand around Private Office in a state of shock, muttering quietly to themselves, absorbing the news that artistically challenged Canto-pop bim Anita Mui has died.  Senior management and the Company Gwailo, however, go about their business in their usual, efficient manner.  Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary is the first to wonder aloud how some of us can be oblivious to this historic loss to the world of music and cinema.  "Don’t you know Anita Mui is dead?" she asks almost incredulously.  Resisting the temptation to say "who?", I explain that, like the Canadian immigration authorities, I was not a big fan of the screeching star of Triad-backed movies.  I enjoy bewildering her – revenge for 9-11, when senior management were traumatized, while junior staff laughed and played with their Hello Kitty mobile phones, uninterested as ever in anything that happens in the world beyond Mongkok.
Wed, 31 Dec
Toenail clippings swirl around my ankles in the bitter winter breeze as I trudge slowly over piles of festering mango peel, empty Vitasoy cartons, unsold copies of Spike magazine and crocodile-mangled children's limbs on the sidewalk of Queen's Rd.  But what’s happening across the street?  Outside Marks and Spencers' emporium for gullible Mainland tourists and large-framed gwaipos, the unsung heroes of our plucky Food and Environmental Hygiene Department scrub the pavement with carbolic soap, water and Paco Rabanne Pour Elle as part of the Year-end Clean Up Operation.  Just in time for the secretaries, expat brats and other amateurs to crawl down the hill from Lan Kwai Fong later tonight and disgorge the contents of their stomachs after drinking in the New Year.
Thurs, 1 Jan 2004
The headline on the front page of yesterday's South China Morning Post read ‘Chance of SARS case very high, says Tung … CE says disease likely to be confirmed’.  Hongkongers’ hearts swelled with pride on seeing their Chief Executive ending 2003 revealing hitherto unknown epidemiological talent.  Twenty-four hours later, we start 2004 with our hopes dashed as poor Tofu-for-Brains is exposed as a charlatan.  Today’s headline reads ‘SARS case evidence points to false alarm’. 

SCMP also reports that Hong Kong's first baby of the year was a 2.9kg girl born at Prince of Wales Hospital at 12.03am, sporting dyed orange hair and screaming into a Hello Kitty mobile phone.  What the paper fails to mention is that Hong Kong’s first liar of 2004 came into existence at 12.00.01am sharp, after Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam chose not to meet his promised end-year deadline to produce a timetable for the consultation exercise on democratic reform.  Or could it be that Mr Lam is so overworked that he cannot find the 20 minutes needed to put together a simple timeline?  Maybe he can borrow the one put together by some public-spirited volunteers on page 8 of their green paper

Meanwhile, I receive an irate phone call from Polly the lipstick lesbian demanding to know why I did not attend the march for democracy, which apparently attracted 100,000 people.  I have no choice but to confess.  My debauched afternoon ended with a post-coital pizza with a drunk Indonesian girl whose Muslim faith forbids her – it transpires after I order the dish – to eat ham and pepperoni.

Fri, 2 Jan
S-Meg Holdings’ visionary Chairman kicks off 2004 by asking everyone at the morning meeting to predict Hong Kong’s economic growth for the year ahead.  The spotty accountant, our de-facto economist, says 4 percent.  The Deputy Managing Director says 3 percent.  The Big Boss skips fearsome human resources supremo Ms Doris Pang, presumably on the grounds that women can’t do GDP forecasts.  His finger swings in the direction of our Mainland Fixer Freddy Mao, who says 3 percent.  Several division heads offer their opinions in quick succession – 3,3, 4 and 3 percent respectively.  Finally, all eyes turn to the company gwailo.  "Seven percent," I say, to gasps of disbelief from elsewhere in the room.  "I concur with Hemlock," announces the grinning tycoon, who has eschewed all use of the word ‘agree’ since November, perhaps suspecting it is low-class.  That’s what I’m here for.  Critical thinking, lateral thinking, thinking outside the box – well, just plain thinking, really.  Someone has to do it. 

If people start the new year as they intend to continue it, we can expect casino king Stanley Ho to have an emotional, vengeful and bitter 2004.  He obviously has a deep personal grudge,
declaring yesterday that he would leave Hong Kong if an unnamed advisor to CH Tung ever became Chief Executive.  So obviously was he referring to CY Leung, that he might just as well have uttered the name.  Is there a meaningful link between Hong Kong’s people-power movement and the plunge in property prices since 1998?  Can the movement seriously be described as ‘turmoil'?  Yes, if you feel enough hatred in your heart.  It’s good to see people letting their feelings out.  Ho is not alone.  Despite Beijing’s clampdown on the tycoons’ ‘dump Tung’ campaign, Hong Kong’s business elite is angry and divided.  If he had political skills, the crop-haired one would grab this last chance for redemption and glory by turning on the property barons like Ho and reforming the land system that diverts so much public wealth into their coffers.  As it is, we must just sit back and enjoy the entertainment as the people, the tycoons and Beijing jockey for position in the world after Tung and his ‘wonders never cease’ incompetence.