Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
30 March-5 April 2003
Sun, 30 Apr
The streets are all but deserted.  Very pleasant.  If people were out, they would no doubt be saying "Hi" rather than shaking hands – as instructed by our caring Government, which has declared this to be
Household Clean-up Day.  But instead, the blubbery gwailos are undergoing their annual Rugby Sevens internment in HK Stadium, watching oafish South Pacific islanders run up and down.  And the locals are staying at home, performing self-diagnosis of respiratory symptoms and coming to the conclusion they have hours to live.  Pork and 100-year-old egg congee for lunch at the Foreign Correspondents' Club, where the rugby is being shown on large TV screens.  Can't help noticing that the Singapore team has a tall black player.  One of Lee Kwan-yew's eugenics experiments?  Or maybe a reject from the team from Botswana, which, to look at them, is somewhere in Scandinavia.  On the way home, I hear a muffled voice – an Australian tourist asking me through thick pads of medicated gauze why I am not wearing a mask. "We get this all the time," I explain, "it's just nature's way of weeding out the ones who don't eat their greens and fresh fruit, and don't get enough sleep or exercise."  "So we don't have to wear this?" he asks, pulling his padding away.  "No, of course not – a breeding ground for germs.  Ditch it." He wisely does.  Return to Perpetual Opulence Mansions to find the two Filipino elves furiously disinfecting door handles, from which, they have inferred from doom-laden Government announcements, killer pneumonia spontaneously erupts.  Send them away unpaid as a punishment for turning up on a Sunday.

Mon, 31 Mar
"The leper in whom the plague is shall wear torn clothes, and the hair of his head shall hang loose. He shall cover his upper lip, and shall cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ All the days in which the plague is in him he shall be unclean. He is unclean. He shall dwell alone. Outside of the camp shall be his dwelling." - Leviticus 13:45-47
What have the lower middle-class residents of Amoy Gardens done to invoke the wrath of God?  By the standards of Sodom, Gomorrah and the Mid-Levels, Kowloon Bay is not known as a hotbed of vice and perversion, which is why such boring underachievers live there.  Could it be that their sheer dullness has irritated the Almighty, who is – “only human” would be incorrect, but He probably has His off-days, like anyone else.  Whatever the reason, they have effectively been banished from the community for 10 days.  Actually, I am jealous. Given broadband, some books, a few cases of liquid revivers and regular deliveries from the deli, 10 days stuck at home would be wonderful.  But then, I don't have a family.

With around 50% of people on the street now wearing masks, it is surely an ideal time to pull off a string of daring bank robberies.  “Police are looking for two men of average build wearing surgical masks.” 
Tue, 1 Apr
With killer pneumonia, war in Iraq, incompetent leadership and a weak economy bringing Hong Kong to its knees, the French have predictably decided to go for the kill and send us Marcel Marceau (at
City Hall, 21 April).  It would be playing into this white-faced clown's hands to say that words can't describe the loathsomeness and artlessness of this form of entertainment. For all their faults as the juvenile delinquents of global diplomacy, the French can do culture.  Glancing down my shelves, what do I see?  CDs of Satie, Bizet and Ravel.  Books on Degas, Monet, Renoir – and Gustave Doré's illustrations of Rabelais. Fiction by Flaubert, de Maupassant and Camus.  Marc Bloch's Feudal Society. A dictionary of la belle langue de dieu.  And the best stuff is in the kitchen – in the wine cabinet and the cheese box. And let's not forget the Michaux brothers, who invented the steam-driven bicycle, and Arthur Granjean, to whom we owe the Etch-A-Sketch.  But mime?  What is it?  Attention-seeking mutes in mascara, climbing up invisible ladders with inane grins on their faces, intent on giving our plague-traumatized children nightmares.
Despite such little setbacks, life remains essentially wonderful.  Today is the day, after a year’s reprieve from our visionary Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, that stockbrokers’ minimum commissions are abolished.  With the obvious exception of life insurance salesmen, there are no grottier, more pitiful figures in Hong Kong’s financial services industry.  To provide us with a last bit of entertainment before they shrivel up and die, these shabby little people are attempting to exercise their inalienable right as Hong Kong businessmen to organize a cartel.  “.. Slashing the commission won't bring any benefits…,” claims HK Stockbrokers' Association chairman Wilfred Wong.  “We hope brokers are united and do not take the first step to cut commissions.”  One lesson in basic economic and game theory coming up…
Wed, 2 Apr
An email from Inspector Morris, still on leave of absence from the Police, apparently “handling” Iraqi officers somewhere near Basra. What’s up? he asks.  Send him a quick response
Well, after several weeks of pussy-footing around and not really taking SARS seriously, the people of Hong Kong have finally started to do what they do best – completely and utterly wetting themselves.  Inspired by a rumour started on-line by a 14-year-old, mobs are descending on supermarkets in a frenzy of panic-buying.  Inmates of Amoy Gardens are being rounded up and sent off to sinister-sounding “camps”.  Canto-pop star Leslie Cheung has leapt to his death from a building, as has an anti-corruption official at the Jockey Club.  (A more exact way to go than unmanly charcoal-burning, don’t you think? Plus you get one last look at our beautiful city.)  Also in the voluntary exit department – pampered, spineless expats, like the wimps at the US Consulate, are leaving town lest their bratty kids and corpulent wives succumb to the plague that has so far hit 0.01% of us.  Harvey Stockwin describes the Mainland’s cover-up of SARS as “indirect aggression against humanity through systemic incompetence.”  The HK Tourism Board, never very good at rising to a challenge, has pulled its overseas “Come to Sunny Hong Kong” advertising campaign.  Otherwise, you’re not missing much.
Is KW Mak of the Chief Executive’s office telepathic?  How else could he respond to a letter from one Martin Chiang in the same issue (today’s) of the South China Morning Post?  The only other explanation is that the SCMP is indulging in the creepy Singaporean practice of giving the Government advance notice of what they will print, enabling officials to neutralize negative public opinion with an instant party line – and obviously they would never do that.

Thurs, 3 April
Have written to the Minor Honours Sub-committee (General Public) nominating the 14 year old whose April Fool’s Day joke prompted widespread panic-buying for a Bronze Bauhinia Star.  As well as making a couple of million gullible citizens look foolish, he had a point.  Maybe we should just shut this city down and be done with it.  What hope is there for a place where a newspaper article like this appears?

Counsellors are worried about the impact of Leslie Cheung’s death on his legions of fans. … Chinese U psychiatry professor Lee Sing said Cheung’s fans feel depressed because they had lost the psychological support they used to draw from their idol’s movies and music.
[ Why?  Aren’t they still available at all good pirated CD stalls? ]  But he said the real concern was the impact it would have on depressed people in general.  “When they see someone as successful as Leslie Cheung commit suicide it confirms their sense of negative self-worth.”

Good – these are the last people Hong Kong needs.  Provided they don’t land on me, let them get on with it.  And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of these wretched counsellors.  They’ve founded an entire industry encouraging people who just need a quick slap to fall to pieces every time life isn’t 100% perfect.

Fri, 4 April
Are people starting to get bored of wearing masks?  I perceive a slight drop in usage on the walkways of Central this morning, despite today’s deathly date – the double fourth.  Tomorrow is April the Fifth – if the synonymous
Action Group holds a demonstration we will know that Hong Kong is returning to normal.  I will miss SARS.  People have been keeping their distance, washing their hands, and, most of all, staying at home out of my way.  And I will miss the entertainment – the tourists clutching tissues to their faces, the self-important expats moving their wives and children out of town, the mindless herds standing in long lines because everyone else is doing it. Still, no doubt an interesting new virus is evolving, as I write, in some charming and picturesque pig farm in a quiet corner of lush, fertile Guangdong.