Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
27 April-3 May 2003
Mon, 28 April
I have finally caved in to pressure from one of the
South China Morning Post’s myriad editors and agreed to contribute to the Around the Nation column, which purports to reflect life in the far-flung reaches of our glorious motherland.  Looking at today’s issue, I am pleased with my efforts. “BEIJING: Havoc on motorway when beehive falls off truck.  JIANGSU: 81-year-old woman divorces jealous husband of 30 years.  GANSU: Three students drown trying to retrieve ID card.”  But can I keep this up on a daily basis?  The rules are quite strict – no more than one bus crash a day, and three heart-lifting stories (“Tibetan farmers buy Mercedes and install swimming pools”) for every piece of “bad” news (“Bribe-taking party chief caught with prostitutes smuggling drugs”) – and no cannibalism at all.  This will be a severe test of my imagination, unless I resort to hallucinatory assistance.  Will do my best…  “TIANJIN: Onion grader arrested for selling three-eyed baby daughter to circus.  XIAN: Researchers discover Chinese herbal cure for atypical athlete's foot.”

One billion SARS cases feared".  I do admire the way Australian newspapers manage to put such a positive spin on things. Will show this to the Big Boss, who can take it to his meeting today with Tung Chee-hwa, our embattled Chief Executive.  I feel sorry for the crop-haired one.  He is unable to defend himself from his critics because it would involve placing the blame for Hong Kong's SARS woes where it belongs – over the border with the shoe-shining, punitive, control-obsessed and inhumane nature of Chinese communism.  But it's his fault. Those who live by the shoe-brush, die by the shoe-brush.

Tue, 29 April
The tai chi enthusiasts outside Exchange Square look especially glum this morning as they part the manes of imaginary wild horses in approximate unison while standing on one leg.  Cause or effect?  Does the exercise make people depressed, or are miserable people attracted to it?  It is tempting to ask them to desist for a couple of weeks to see if they cheer up. Angela, the extremely buxom Malaysian girl, was always unhappy after returning from her studies in Shanghai, though that was because the master would hit his students with a ruler when they made mistakes. It worked – I will never forget the time she treated me to a breathtakingly graceful performance in the nude, stepping back to subdue the tiger with even her breasts somehow remaining motionless. The mournful-looking Exchange Square practitioners are flat-chested – maybe that’s their problem.
What are all these bits of paper blowing around Statue Square?  Why, they are Legislative Council motions – fresh from the Government Printer. One, for next week, penned in the spare style of legal representative Margaret Ng, declares no-confidence in Olympic diving fan and Financial Secretary, the (undoubtedly) Honourable Antony Leung, who remained so uncomfortably silent about the purchase of a pre-tax-hike Lexus while all about him loudly declared interests.  Another, for the following week, comes courtesy of demented ex-Democrat Albert Chan, and calls on poor old CH to hurl himself from the Tsing Ma bridge to atone for officials’ handling of SARS – one of this benighted Government’s few relative success stories, though Tung himself doesn’t seem to realise it.  Like the stock market, up 3% this morning, the clowns in the circus are a leading indicator – the plague is retreating from the determined advances of humdrum normality. I will have nothing but sex and food to write about.

I like SARS victims!  Should have done this yesterday.  Even so, at these prices, SHK Properties ($35.8), Cathay Pacific ($8.8) and Giordano ($2) are begging to be scooped up, so I grab some – they will all be up 50% within 12-24 months, unless the human race is wiped out by Guangdong duck farms' next virological wonder, or economic cycles cease.  To hedge my bets, I also buy some Hang Seng Bank, which will carry on producing dividends even if civilization grinds to a halt.
Wed, 30 Apr
Netherlands Day.  The
SCMP celebrates with a special supplement informing us that US$1 buys 1.1342 Guilders, a currency that no longer exists.  Idiooten!

The chattering classes babble less about atypical pneumonia by the day, and the braver members of the lower orders cast off their masks and dare to handle once-deadly doorknobs. It is time to reflect on the good SARS has done. It has provided vivid reminders of things that we so easily forget, like the callous and uncivilized character of government north of Lo Wu, and the importance of washing our hands. More benefits await us, as a statistically insignificant threat deters socially and intellectually insignificant people from visiting our shores and being tiresome. The latest example is squash players, whose 2003 Cathay Pacific Open next August is cancelled.  A peculiar pastime, favoured for some reason by accountants and other worthy but wearisome types who are too hyperactive for golf.  Even by the usual standards of muscle-bound oafs hitting, throwing or kicking balls around, it is an unwatchable activity – a virtually invisible ball bouncing back and forth while two perfect, if sweaty, Aryans leap around looking ridiculous trying not to get in each other’s way.  We are also being spared a yacht race to the Philippines and, apparently, “the Davies Cup tie” between Hong Kong and Lebanon. If I recall correctly from Foreign Correspondents Club quizzes, the latter is either tennis or golf.  Either way, our already-wonderful lives will be better without it.
Thurs, 1 May
Lie awake half the night, agonizing, like everyone from the White House to Main Street, over how France should be punished.  My personal preference would be to grab it by the ear, drag it into a corner, pull its pants down and give it a good thrashing with a 4-foot piece of rattan.  The economic hedonist in me has a strong urge to consume more of their wine and cheese, so there is less left for them – but with their outdated, mercantilist obsession with trade surpluses, they would probably enjoy that.  In Dante’s Inferno, hypocrites were made to wear gold-plated cloaks of lead – superficially admirable, but inwardly despicable – and had to walk in circles for eternity.  A bit boring.  How do you punish a place that’s already cursed with a dead language, European Union membership, an invasion of British property buyers, and the Disney/McDonald’s cultural putrefaction industry? They endure so much unpleasantness already.  Maybe that's the answer – we could simply remind them with barely disguised smugness of the Buddhist teaching that all our suffering springs from selfish attempts to please ourselves rather than to think of others.  That should touch a raw nerve.
Fri, 2 May
Dr Margaret Cheng, the SCMP’s SARS agony aunt, warns us that cockroaches with coronavirus on their plentiful little feet and a taste for minty flavours might enjoy nothing more than to scuttle around on our toothbrushes while we sleep.  Her advice – that we gargle with boiling bleach – is sensible, as is her suggestion that nervous cyclists disinfect their tyres before wheeling bikes into the home.  Just a few pages on, horoscope master Edwin Ma tells us that this is a bad day for gardening and burials (or, presumably, digging and putting things under the ground in general).  How can so much wise guidance go for just HK$7? 

An email from the HK Tourism Board seeking ideas for slogans for the post-SARS tourism-promotion campaign.  The best I can manage is “Most of us didn’t die – you probably won’t”.  But I never was much good at this sort of thing.  Someone at the wretched-sounding Corporate Environmental Governance Programme at Hong Kong U suggests replacing “City of Life” with “Region of Diversity”, oblivious to the fact that every destination on Earth markets itself with blather about diversity, variety, ski-in-the-morning-swim-in-the-afternoon, old/new, East/West and similar clichés.  Perhaps Hong Kong should take the opposite approach – “Come to Sunny Hong Kong, land of concrete, concrete and more soothing concrete – such a relaxing change from the disturbing and confusing contrasts of everywhere else.”

Like the
Switzerland of Africa.