|The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
27 June-3 July 2004
|Mon, 28 June
Will we see a few home visit permits being thrown around before Thursday? After posing the question three days ago, I see that the answer is yes. I consider this a reassuring demonstration of my great powers of foresight, and nothing at all to do with the heavy-handed predictability of Zhongnanhai scriptwriters. Several leading pro-democracy figures have been miraculously transformed from traitors and disgraces to the Chinese nation one minute, to positive contributors to social harmony the next. Even Martin Lee, the would-be holy blissful martyr of the Hong Kong ballot box, is said to be on Beijing’s list of former outcasts to be graciously permitted to set foot in their homeland. Not everyone will see their banishment come to an end. Scholarly mouth-frother Szeto Wah remains beyond the pale. And so does Emily Lau – though who among us would seriously consider letting her into our own homes? It is a relatively clever split. After failing spectacularly earlier this year to cleave the pro-democrats from the 70 or so percent of the population who support them, Mainland officials have chosen to divide the most boorish, stubborn and slightly deranged fringe from the rest. The question is whether Saint Martin, having recently shown some ‘sincerity’ to appease the imperial court, will show a bit more, and then another bit more, and then a bit more again – in line with classic Zhongnanhai requirements. He and his fellow new friends of Beijing will need to make their long overdue trip over the border on their knees, as they publicly disown their futile and utopian stance of the last 20 years.
Tue, 29 June
The day starts with a cup of steaming hot, brown, water-flavoured liquid at the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee. Ex-Mormon friend Odell sips his strawberry and ginseng cappuccino and puts down his newspaper. “Here she comes,” he murmers, “the plump Christian girl. Same time nearly every morning recently.” She is mid-20s, with faint ginger streaks in her hair and rather too-loud lipstick. Tight black trousers and a simple white blouse accentuate her generous proportions. “Watch this,” says Odell. “She’ll get a blueberry croissant and a Twining’s English tea, sit down at this table here…” he indicates the one next to us, “and pray.” Sure enough, she comes over, puts her cup and plate on the table, sits, takes a black leather, soft-bound Chinese bible from her shoulder bag, makes a sign of the cross and bows her head in silence for 34 increasingly agonizing seconds of public piety. After this lengthy grace, she opens the gold-edged pages of what seems to be a New Testament, flicks the red ribbon out of the way and reads devotedly over breakfast.
Odell looks away from her. “Are you free tomorrow morning?” he asks me seriously. I can be. The Big Boss is out of town. “Could you do me a really, really big favour?” he asks. I nod warily. He asks me if I remember Denny, the spotty, accident-prone young man from Kennedy Town who became Odell’s local sidekick in his missionary days, and then followed his mentor down the path to debauchery and ruin. I nod again, reluctantly. “He’s got to go somewhere, and he wants someone with him – to hold his hand, basically. He’s really nervous.” What on earth am I letting myself in for? “Meet him at this place at 10 to 10.” Odell passes me a slip of paper with ‘284 Queen’s Rd East’ written on it. I look at him quizzically. “Don’t ask,” he says, shaking his head. “I’d go with him myself, of course,” he assures me, “but Mr Black died last night. Actually, Mee killed him, I think.” Glancing up, I notice the plump
|Christian girl staring at the floor halfway between her table and ours, her mouth open. How is she to know that this death took place in a sideboard aquarium in a dingy Soho apartment? “She puts chilled water in the tank, in case they’re feeling hot,” Odell explains. “She’s up in Shenzhen today – back tomorrow. I’ve got to get a new one, exactly the same size. No time today.”
So. Odell has to find an identical replica of Mr Black the deceased janitor fish before his wife comes back. Therefore, I have to accompany Denny to his mysterious and ominous-sounding appointment in Queen’s Road East tomorrow. It is not every day that I learn something from a dead fish, but there it is – next time, just say ‘sorry, I’m busy’.
RIP – Anthony Buckeridge, b. 1912, creator of the Jennings books, which I read eagerly many years ago and promptly forgot about totally – until today. My thoughts on learning of his passing are partly of nostalgia for a bygone era, but mainly of surprise that the man was still alive.
Wed, 30 June
Early morning in Perpetual Opulence Mansions, browsing through the newspapers over coffee, grapefruit, yoghurt, olives and a bread roll, with Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Norfolk Rhapsody on the stereo. Virtually six months after I made the prediction myself, the Bank of China (HK) finally raises its 2004 GDP forecast to 6.5%. All they had to do was ask me. The organizers of tomorrow’s march advise everyone – ‘Do not hit back or shout back when harassed by passers-by’. I will bring my trusty 150,000-volt Taser®, so I can leap to the defence of any voluptuous pro-democracy protester I see being molested by maloderous, gap-toothed, demented ‘patriots’. And the UK Government is awarding ‘outstanding achievement’ medals to Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Burma’s late chief Ne Win and our very own visionary Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, for their contributions to anglophilia. They deserve it – only a few, exceptional people could possibly manage to make British governance look so good.
|Standing outside 284 Queen’s Rd East at 9.45am, I look across to the bottom of Stubbs Rd and the Sikh temple. Turning round, I see Queen Elizabeth Stadium, a dental centre, a hospital complex and, coming towards me, the number 113 bus from Kennedy Town. It stops, and Odell’s friend Denny steps out. He looks traumatized as he greets me. My hunch is that I am expected to accompany him to a court appearance. But I am wrong. His problem, he mumbles, began on Friday night, when he had a drunken encounter with a Mainland hooker. He now has what he calls ‘something green’ coming out of his ‘little brother’. Ewww... We enter a grey building and go to the Men’s Social Hygiene Clinic on the 6th floor. As he registers at the reception, with its relaxing view of a graveyard across the road, I sit in the waiting area and observe the clientele. Out of 16, all but a couple are well-groomed, middle-class types. No fewer than three are gwailos – a healthy (for want of a better word) level of representation for such a small ethnic group. Before the rows of plastic seats, a TV plays a loop tape in which a fetching female nurse demonstrates, not without relish, I feel, how to unroll a condom onto a plastic tube. Denny sits down next to me. “I’m going to die of AIDS.” He whispers. “Oh, rubbish,” I tell him.
As names are announced over the PA, glum-looking individuals get up and walk into numbered rooms. The names are enunciated clearly enough to enable a casual onlooker to jot them down for Googling purposes. One of the gwailo names sounds familiar. A barrister? After 30 minutes, Denny is summoned to Room 4. A minute later he is back. They asked if was a drug addict or homosexual, he reports. After another 20 minutes, his presence is requested in Room 5, the Consultation Room. Again, he is back in a minute. A visual inspection, he says. Another 20 minutes, and he is called to Room 6, the Test Room. He comes out petrified. They stuck a plastic thing up inside his little brother, he tells me. I wince. He describes the scene – the room smelt funny, there was a bench with a ‘glass candle’ burning on it, there was purple stuff in a metal sink. Just some voodoo ritual, I tell him, trying to cheer him up. After another long wait, he is asked to go to Room 7, the Injection Room. Like a dozen people before him in the previous hour, he emerges after several minutes holding a pad against his arm. They took two lots of blood, he whispers. No big deal, I tell him. Then it is off to Room 5 again. He is back in a minute. It’s gonorrhea, he mutters to me. There’s a lot of it about, I say, glancing round at all the other people going through this conveyor belt. By 20 to 12, he is asked to go to Room 8, the Treatment Room. He enters and instantly comes out again, fills a cup at the water cooler, and disappears back inside. After 20 seconds he re-emerges. They gave him one pill – and that’s it. The wonders of modern medicine. We’ll go and have a drink after this, I tell him, as he is called to Room 4 again. That takes a minute, and then we leave. No – no alcohol, he tells me. No alcohol, no sex, no coffee, no spicy food. Still, he no longer looks quite so devastated. Just miserable. “Cheer up,” I tell him. “It was free!”
I look forward to making Odell feel suicidal with guilt for asking me to perform the most hellish favour I have ever done for anyone. I certainly won’t tell him how fascinating it was to see the Government’s latest use for my tax dollars – banning clap victims from eating curry.
Thurs, 1 July
My contribution to today’s march…
|Quick and Dirty Gazpacho
1 can V8, 1 can tomato juice, several dashes Tabasco, 1 spoon finely chopped garlic, dash of red wine vinegar, 1 handful of finely chopped fresh parsley, pinch salt/pepper.
If available (it is): several thin slices of cucumber, finely diced.
Mix together, chill in freezer for 10 mins, pour into thermos flask with lots of ice.
Close thermos tightly. Bring to march.
|The crop-haired one’s effort to draw more protesters to Victoria Park may be more effective – namely his decision to insult last year’s SARS heroes by giving them second-tier awards in today’s Hong Kong Honours, while giving his political cronies and shoeshiners the first-class medals. Old tofu-for-brains’ political acumen is such a never-ending source of entertainment that I can’t believe people will seriously be calling for him to go this afternoon.
Our march for democracy begins with Polly the lipstick lesbian, her new nameless friend, half of my favourite married couple Lincoln and May (May resting with child), Odell and Mee, plus myself, seeking shade in Victoria Park before 2.00. The tiresome John Lennon song Power to the People plays over loudspeakers strung throughout the place. As people pour in, groups of cops giggle at the jokes being made about Tung Chee-hwa by the entertainers on stage, until a brutish, 6’ 4” gwailo senior inspector starts to parade around in his too-tight, sweat-sodden uniform. It’s 100 degrees F.
We crouch under umbrellas. Someone on the stage starts to sing a protest song with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica – as if we are not suffering enough. A girl walks past me wearing a T-shirt saying ‘Tsinghua University 1911’ and waving a Hello Kitty fan against her soaking face. Above the west end of the park, the normally jam-packed flyover is deserted – cut off by the traffic police. A Customs Department van sits stationary in the middle of it. It’s not often the world’s most lavishly equipped law enforcement agencies need to borrow each other’s vehicles.
People pouring into the park are herded into holding areas – adjacent concrete soccer pitches lined by plastic police tape. There are no real barriers, but everyone dutifully waits their turn to march past the statue of Queen Victoria and through the narrow exit gate, onto the main road that heads towards Central. We file past piles of boxes of drinking water – help yourself. We pass Mike Chinoy, the CNN reporter, melting away in a TV truck. Everyone is melting. Students from HK University distribute invitations to tell their political science professor why you are there.
“Tung Chee-hwa, stand down!” That’s the refrain, as the crowd shuffles along at snail’s pace through Causeway Bay, waving banners and chanting. Are we 200,000 or 300,000, or more? If a dozen have turned up in this heat, you have to ask why. We are dripping, fanning each other and gasping for breath. Massed pro-Beijing forces – all seven of them – have set up a stall on the road not far past Sogo playing patriotic songs and handing out leaflets identifying ‘traitors’. Odell nervously plays with the safety lid on his can of pepper spray. Everyone else laughs at them.
|Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number -
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few.
|After passing Sogo department store, Hennessy Road gets wider, and the march becomes less crowded. We are surrounded by husbands and wives, youths, children, old folk. A gwailo couple have brought a black Labrador with a collar festooned with yellow ribbons. I have finished my litre bottle of water. As we approach Wanchai, some Mainland tourists stare in amazement on the sidewalk and take photographs. I plan my getaway. No-one will miss me.
Wringing my T-shirt out in the men’s room in an air-conditioned Lockhart Road disco dungeon, I make a mental note to bring dry spare clothing next time. Every item I am wearing is drenched. A waitress is impressed by my afternoon’s escapade and produces a nasty but dry Carlsberg T-shirt. For some reason, I am inundated with sex-starved Southeast Asian ladies begging to be taken back to my place. Not possible – I am drained. After a few beers, by which time it’s past 7pm, I go back to the procession and join the stragglers. I actually make it to Central.
Is tofu-for-brains going to get the hint this time? Or do we have to do this every year? Don't answer.
|Fri, 2 July
Gliding down the Mid-Levels Escalator, Hong Kong’s clean-living, tax-paying, disenfranchised middle class chatters excitedly about the much-debated size of yesterday’s march. We can be sure that a demonstration did take place – Xinhua says so. The police, who have no problem calculating their air-conditioning allowances to three decimal places, vaguely report 200,000. This was the number they planned for last year. I first read of 530,000 people in a Bloomberg report last night, and assumed the hot and exhausted reporter had typed the ‘3’ and the ‘5’ in the wrong order. But Apple Daily decides it likes the number 530,000, so that surely settles the matter.
|At one minute before nine exactly, in the private office on the top floor of S-Meg Tower in the steaming central business district of Asia’s leading international financial hub, a pair of Tung Chee-hwa’s eunuchs come out of the elevator and present themselves to Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary. They overlook the yellow ribbon someone has tied to her desk lamp, maybe though politeness, tact or, most likely, obtuseness. They are ushered into a meeting room. An aging Epsilon in a butler’s uniform briefly enters with tea and dimsum. The Big Boss emerges from his inner sanctum and has a word or three with everyone he can see. Anything to keep the Chief Executive’s emissaries waiting. He looks at the front page of the newspapers with a smirk. As he did last year, he finds the sight of hordes of people denouncing Tung endlessly amusing. He is not alone among Hong Kong’s captains of industry, though most gloat behind closed boardroom doors. Which is why the crop-haired one is reduced to dispatching his minions to beg for sympathy. The Big Boss puts the paper down, looks at his gold Rolex, and with a hint of a scowl goes for his little chat with the Lower Albert Road anti-schadenfreude patrol.