|The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
29 August- 4 September 2004
|Sun, 29 Aug
Not before time, people are taking my advice. Following my recommendation last week, the Democratic Party has gone on the attack and publicised the truth about the putrid slime that is the Liberal Party. And the Hong Kong Government has finally fallen into line wiith my forecast – made on 2 January, for heaven’s sake – that the Hong Kong economy will grow 7 percent this year. I also correctly predicted, exactly a month later, that they would be the last people to do so. People think it must be wonderful to be so prescient, but they don’t realize how enormously frustrating it is to be the lone voice of reason.
Or one of very few, at least. Mr TS Wong, chairman of the Undesirable Residents Watch sub-committee of the Mid-Levels Preservation Society, is another. He warned a year ago that more media folk and Mainlanders would be moving into the neighbourhood, and he is proved correct at this afternoon’s meeting. There have been no sightings of noted humorist and sartorial enigma Nury Vittachi in the district for a while. But several members report that South China Morning Post journalists have been seen down the hill in Soho, as has RTHK’s Phil Whelan, who presents the morning show with the woman who talks with her mouth full of something – food, presumably. I question whether the Mainlanders moving into our pristine banlieue are such a threat. It’s not as if they squat, stare and pick their teeth like their compatriots passing through in tour groups. Indeed, I point out, you hardly know they’re there. The media types stick out a mile – they’re the ones face down in the gutter in Staunton Street at times you wouldn’t expect. But if the token northerners in Perpetual Opulence Mansions are anything to go by, we have little to fear. Their only faults are that they speak Mandarin and spend ages holding elevator doors open for people who should move faster. Shuffling a petition to the Government, TS will have none of it. “So they work for investment banks,” he growls. “They’re communists and don’t belong here.”
|Mon, 30 Aug
Over breakfast of cheung fun, steamed buns and fried taro cake at the dingy Yuet Yuen Restaurant, buxom Administrative Officer Winky Ip and I peruse the newspapers. Two of the most tiresome subjects in the world – sport and the glory of the motherland – combine to keep serious matters from the front page of the SCMP today. To be fair, the groveling lead story ‘China leads Asia into a new era’ is quite a scoop. The next Olympics will be held in Beijing! Who would have thought that would happen? But then, Apple Daily, Ming Pao and the rest seem to have got wind of it too. There’s not much else to write about, points out Winky. Wen Wei Po leads with Edmund Ho’s re-appointment as Chief Executive of charming Luso-Cantonese cesspit Macau. Oriental Daily gives pride of place to ‘Mainland brat, 6, walks 1km along MTR line’. Separated from his mother, the kid got off the train at the next station, hopped off the platform onto the tracks and made his way back. Quite sensible, really. I would have done the same, aged six, penniless and determined not to complicate things by getting adults involved – why get pushed around by officialdom? On the subject of which, I ask Winky, what about leading Democratic Party member Law Chi-kwong, who was given permission to visit the Mainland, but was then denied entry at Shanghai airport on Saturday anyway? She shrugs. “Mainland officials bickering,” she says, trying to sound as if she really knows. “The ones here tell him he can go. The ones up there think that’s their decision. Bottom line – Beijing looks stupid, the Democrats look like victims.” We gather up the newspapers and put them on the next table. It’s difficult to make taro cake interesting, but the Hong Kong press manages to do it.
|Tue, 31 Aug
The lobby at Perpetual Opulence Mansions is knee-deep in discarded, badly designed election brochures this morning. Opening my mail box, I find that no fewer than six groups of candidates are begging for my vote. Perhaps the most pitiable is number 5, a dorky-looking if well-intentioned insurance salesman called Kelvin Wong. The good news is that he can only afford a simple, black and white leaflet, which is far less aesthetically displeasing than those of his rivals. In second-last place when they count the votes will be list number 3, hotheaded effigy-burner Tsang Kin-shing, ‘The Bull’, and his team, whose main selling point is the cartoon of Tung Chee-wah getting his buttocks pronged. For sheer awfulness of graphic design, no-one can beat number 2 Rita Fan’s brochure. To her credit, she actually has a policy platform, promising – in detail only a politics junky could love – universal suffrage in the 2020s. All right-thinking people are urging pro-Beijing acquaintances to vote for her, knowing that as she is running alone their surplus votes will be wasted. Audrey Eu and Cyd Ho, list number 6, are blessed with a real designer rather than some brat with an Apple Mac and a ton of cartoon clipart. An odd pair – a banana barrister and a feisty single mother – proposing such bizarreness as free speech, clean air, rule of law and keeping Beijing at arm’s length (politely). The communist-funded DAB can even afford soothing, seductive pale blue envelopes to put their material in. ‘Stability to Advance Democracy’ is their Orwellian slogan – stability meaning ‘not asking for democracy’. While the DAB had the fortune to draw slot number 1 on the ballot sheet, the poor Democrats ended up with the deathly digit 4. What a sorry-looking bunch. Pro-democracy couples are being asked to split their votes – one for Audrey and Cyd, one for this sad crew – to avoid over-voting for the far smarter and presentable female duo. Those of us who are single should presumably vote for these useless idiots, who would otherwise win only one seat on Hong Kong Island, letting the DAB have two. Maybe I should just vote for Kelvin, giving him a 25 percent boost from his current electoral base of self, Mum, Dad and adoring wife Gloria. But I would have a bad conscience. According to Winky Ip, the Government will be offering gifts like umbrellas to voters – which will of course attract the mentally retarded, DAB-voting lower orders, who will crawl out of their hovels and stand in line for days at the mention of anything ‘free’.
In the office, I turn to the SCMP and find to my horror that I must take back what I said yesterday – the voluptuous Winky really does know of what she speaks. Law Chi-kwong was refused entry to the Mainland because an official at Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong failed to ‘canvass the views’ of other departments. Law himself feels it’s an internal struggle, and pro-Beijing parties are angry that the Democrats have been given a ‘public sympathy’ card to play. This perhaps explains why, for all the insults Beijing hurls at the Democratic Party – unpatriotic traitors, etc – they never accuse them of being disorganized, incompetent bumblers.
Wed, 1 Sep
Does anyone understand the Byzantine universe of Marxist groupings? If my limited understanding of hard left theology is correct, the International Committee of the Fourth International would be a Trotskyist faction. We would expect its World Socialist Website to spout raving gibberish – totally unlike, say, the main English-language newspaper in Asia’s leading international financial hub. Except on this occasion it publishes the simple fact that the SCMP can’t bring itself to print, that Democrat Alex Ho, in custody in Dongguan, was obviously stitched up. It must be so dispiriting to work for a newspaper that seems to be less in touch with reality than a bunch of mad communist revolutionaries. But then, who are the real mad communist revolutionaries?
|Fortunately, there is still one thing worth reading – Showcasing the Achievements of the Hong Kong Civil Service, a series of glossy, full-colour leaflets recently received here in S-Meg Tower, extolling the triumphs of our noble and selfless public sector. I particularly enjoy flicking through A pioneer in large-scale seawater flushing, a stirring tribute to our valiant Water Supplies Department. I have read A salute to the lifesavers in the sky so often that I know it off by heart and yearn to join the Government Flying Service. I am saving Using IT to enhance slope safety – a long-overdue glorification of our Civil Engineering Department – for the next time I am trapped in an elevator. In my capacity as factotum to the Big Boss, I send a quick email to the shapely Winky in her lair on Lower Albert Road, asking who had the brilliant idea to write, design and print these lavish accolades for obscure branches of government. “It’s to raise their morale,” she responds bluntly. “You’re not actually supposed to read them.” I see. Yes, of course – these people’s compensation packages are only 200 percent higher than those in the private sector. Their self-esteem must be as fragile as that of an SCMP investigative reporter after the editor spikes his scoop ‘Water Supplies Department Puts LSD in Reservoirs, Population Eagerly Reads Hong Kong – a role model in intellectual property protection’.|
|Thurs, 2 Sept
Even more than usual, the Mid-Levels Escalator is a long, winding thread of excitement and activity this morning. Halfway down, in Soho, election campaign workers erect flags urging us to vote for Audrey Eu and Cyd Ho on 12 September. This is, surely, the psephological equivalent of coals to Newcastle. Just as Hong Kong’s average IQ of 107 is the highest in the world, so the Mid-Levels is the brainiest part of town, with an average of 116 (poor Shatin, at 89, occupies the bottom of the scale). Even the domestic helpers here can do calculus. This is why the Liberal Party isn’t running for election on Hong Kong Island – so few people on this side of the harbour are mentally feeble enough to vote for them. By contrast, Audrey can’t lose, so strong is her appeal to the cranial elite.
At the bottom of the ‘electric ladder’, above Des Voeux Rd, I have my photograph taken while being presented with a free copy of the ‘Hong Kong edition’ of Beijing Youth Daily. Is this a publicity stunt ahead of their initial public offering on our stock market in – if I recall correctly – October? I presume so. There is no price on the cover. Or do they seriously believe there is a demand for propaganda in simplified characters here? The front page of the features section is devoted to an aging patriotic hero named Peng. Have they never heard of ‘one country, two systems’? This is Hong Kong! We want the semen-covered, headless body of a movie starlet found stuffed into a Hello Kitty bag on the back seat of a lime green Lamborghini, not some senile old codger in a cap.
|Fri, 3 Sept
Another free copy of Beijing Youth Daily is thrust into my eager hands at the bottom of the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning. To be given a gift from the glorious motherland’s capital is a delightful start to the day. But isn’t that what life is all about in the new Hong Kong? Free handouts from Beijing are our only hope. Under the latest CEPA deal, Mainland tariffs on Hong Kong-produced gamma globulin, seal furs, frozen eels, men’s or boys’ Arabian robes (of man-made fibres) and medical wadding will be slashed from 10 or 20 percent to zero! Watch our GDP go through the roof. Indeed, the front-page story in the Youth Daily celebrates the signing of yet another vacuous economic cooperation and partnership pact – this one with the municipality of Beijing itself. The 2008 Olympics offer Hong Kong businesses enormous opportunities, we are told. The miracles of Mainland munificence – a money-losing vanity project 1,500 miles to our north will boost our economy. An economy that, in a wanton display of arrogance, ingratitude and impertinence, is undergoing a handsome cyclical upturn with no help from Chinese officials at all – just like it used to under the imperialist British yoke. To take our minds off that, we must find new ways to lower and humiliate ourselves. And what better way to do it than for our visionary Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to prostrate himself before Beijing, in full view of the world, and beg for Hong Kong to be allowed to host some obscure Olympics event in 2008 – the women’s tiddlywinks or the 800 metres backwards-walking. Seven million people cringe. It is as if the crop-haired one’s mission is to strip us of every last bit of pride, confidence, self-reliance and dignity, as if they are shameful colonial traits and an affront to Chinese sovereignty. The story on page 8 of my free newspaper tells us what a wonderful time Hong Kong women have when they move to Beijing. I can believe it – who wouldn’t put up with simplified characters, Mandarin and strange food to get away from old tofu-for-brains?
|Flicking through Beijing Youth Daily, it occurs to me that they have been unable to find space to mention the big story of the day – the release of a prominent political prisoner, Anwar Ibrahim, former Deputy PM of Malaysia. I recall meeting him briefly in Kuala Lumpur before his jealous and spiteful mentor turned on him. The subject of sodomy did not crop up. It’s a stirring story – after being framed, he finally repays tyrannical old Mahathir for that black eye. I would have thought that the young people of Beijing would find it interesting, but I’m sure the editors know their market better than I do. The sofa-seated octogenarian revolutionary hero du jour is a Mr Zhao.
A great puzzle suddenly becomes clear. On 27 July, I predicted that a lengthy missive of blistering wrath from the Singapore Government would soon be printed, in full, in The Economist, after the British publication ran an article about the Lion City’s leadership succession, in which the dread word ‘nepotism’ appeared. But it never happened. Could this, I started wondering, be the new style of Singaporean leadership at work? Could this be an example of the kinder, gentler face we have been promised from new PM Lee Hsien-loong and his
|colleagues? Could it be that Singapore’s leaders will no longer collapse into an infantile tantrum – banging their heads on the floor, wetting their pants and screeching so loud you can hear it in Bangkok – every time a foreign newspaper refers to the city state as the family-run, experimental sheep-breeding laboratory that it is? I found it hard to believe. And I was right to. The answer appears to be an unambiguous ‘no’. The Economist is paying US$270,000 damages for its outrageous defamation, split between Supreme Ruler-for-life Lee Kuan-yew and his first-born son, whose elevation to the PM’s job can be attributed – if you value US$270,000 – to good genes, but not good contacts.
A quiet evening in at Perpetual Opulence Mansions is disturbed by a call from an inmate at the Economist Intelligence Unit. The Economist’s damages, he says, arose from an article in August. It was about Lee Hsien-loong’s wife being made boss of Temasek, the holding company that keeps most Singaporean companies of any size semi-nationalised (like the telephone company, whose chief executive is of course Hsien-loong’s brother). The city-state’s leadership apparently missed the July story, he tells me, their minds being preoccupied with incestuous affairs of state. Would I mind keeping quiet about it? Damages to the Lee family can bite into bonuses. I won’t say a word.