The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
29 June-5 July 2003
|Sun, 29 June
That's our girl! Regina Ip, our shapely and straight-talking Secretary for Security, declares that people will attend Tuesday's march against the national security legislation "as a kind of activity because it's a holiday … [it doesn't] necessarily mean that they are against Article 23." Instant frothing at the mouth breaks out among pretty much everyone. The noble art of being intensely irritating while appearing to be oblivious to it is alive and well. And as if that weren't a good enough start to the week, I am delighted to find that there is a town in Germany called Bad Fussing – a spa resort for (no doubt cantankerous) senior citizens.
|Mon, 30 June
The effects of CEPA – the “free-trade deal” between our plucky little Special Administrative Region and the glorious motherland – will be “felt in the long term”, according to Henry Tang, the equine-visaged Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Subsidies, or “almost immediately", according to Financial Secretary and Lexus enthusiast Antony Leung. Tariff-free entry to Hong Kong-manufactured goods… What Hong Kong-manufactured goods? No matter. If we can make Tuen Mun a historic ‘island of charm’, we can do anything. By way of rapturous welcome to this groundbreaking arrangement, which will “help revitalize our economy” (CH Tung), the stock market falls 0.5% in the morning.
Tue, 1 July
The Bye-bye Brits anniversary, or SAR Establishment Day – with no invitation to the ceremonies this year, I presume I am no longer a member. Weather better than a year ago, or six years ago. Omelet with chorizo (it's the donkey that makes it special) and olives for breakfast. Iron my James Tien for Mensa Chairman T-shirt while listening to Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas performed by Les Arts Florrisants. Banish sorrow, banish care, Grief should ne'er approach the fair.
Quite a march – the biggest since 1989. We arrive at Victoria Park by 1pm. Perched on railings, Odell the defrocked Mormon missionary, his Thai wife Mee, Polly the lipstick lesbian, favourite married couple Lincoln and May, and I dine on noodles from exquisite Tung Dynasty polystyrene cups. "Lots of little people onto the streets," urges the headline in Polly's newspaper. The South China Morning Post advises that "people should eat sufficient carbohydrates before the march, wear loose cotton clothes with a cap and bring water and some snacks such as biscuits," neglecting, typically, to inform us what flavour or brand of biscuits is best. The spotty accountant from S-Meg Holdings is planning to join us with his wife and kid, but calls from Central MTR station before 2pm. Black-shirted multitudes are forming lines 10 or 15 deep the whole length of the platform, he says. By 2.30 Victoria Park is packed.
Man with mic on stage: "Tung Chee-hwa…"
A six-figure number of people: "…stand down!"
Repeat as required, between guitar-playing interludes. Canto-protest is worse than Canto-pop. That takes some doing. The park officials leave hosepipes on so people have water. Being close to the front, we shuffle out of the park by 3.30, heading west to Central. It's hot and humid, and it's obvious that not everyone had a shower this morning. It's not just the middle class here today. On the road next to the park, the number 23 bus gets a special round of applause, the driver grinning and waving a V-sign. Buses of Mainland tourists go by, their occupants waving and even pounding the windows in solidarity – Chinese democracy starts (or fails) here. Another call from the spotty accountant. Like him, the HK Police have seriously underestimated the turnout. Vehicles in the streets near the Exelsior Hotel are stranded in a sea of protesters. That's the last we hear from him, the mobile phone system in the district being swamped.
Regina's comments convinced another 50,000 (100,000? 200,000?) to come along. Forget Article 23 – a 5% solution of Singapore's restrictions on civil liberties – the real issue is who should be running this place. Our top officials eulogize heroes who volunteered to work in hospitals during the SARS outbreak, and, virtually in the same breath, lament the fact that these heroes were too stupid to be allowed to vote. These same officials think 2007 = 2012. (How many will march if our demented excuse for a Government is cretinous enough to pursue that idea?) Marching through Wanchai at 4.30, Polly drags me off to a basement disco, while Odell, tethered to Mee, plods on watching enviously. She fails in her quest for a Southeast Asian hermaphrodite, and, not having heeded the SCMP's advice on biscuits, I lack the energy to lure a dusky maid out of the place. We emerge from the disco dungeon at nearly 9pm. The last stragglers are marching to Admiralty, and Queens Road in Central is still packed with people. We fail to descend into decadence, just as the marchers fail to stop the Government from being stupid. But in both cases, we're not really trying this time.
Wed, 2 July
The Big Boss is in a cheerful mood this morning, enjoying the major loss of face Tung Chee-hwa has suffered with half a million people on the street as affable, baby-kissing Premier Wen Jiabao leaves town. I have always assumed that the Chairman of S-Meg Holdings is a member of the same Communist Party cell that was formed years back to accommodate the likes of Tung, Antony/Elsie/CY Leung, Regina, et al. He has certainly kept his distance from the “Dump Tung” faction of tycoons. But, as a wise Frenchman once said, life would be unbearable were it not for the misery of our friends.
|Thu, 3 July
Bump into the delectable Winky Ip heading into Central Government Offices. “How are things in there?” I ask. She grimaces – “Fire alarms going off everywhere!” As an Administrative Officer, she is forbidden to take part in political activities, but she says she was marching “in spirit” on Tuesday. I look around to make sure no-one is listening. “What’s this I hear people saying about Beijing giving up on Tung, and him standing down later this year for health reasons, to spend more time with his family – that sort of thing?” She shakes her head dismissively. “Just a rumour,” she says, turning to go, “and anyway, you know the saying – if it sounds to good to be true…”
|Another rumour is that our far-sighted leaders will allow more time for the National Security bill, rather than ram it through the circus next Wednesday. It makes sense. They tried to rush it on the assumption that, once passed, it would no longer be a vote-loser for pro-Article 23 parties at next year's election – no chance of that after last Tuesday. However, it would make the next Article 23 protest somewhat redundant. At my urging, our professional dissenters have decided to hold the protest right here in Central – so much more convenient for me than Causeway Bay, and it will be nice for the folk from across the harbour to see our historic Legislative Council Building. I don't believe rumours, anyway.|
|Fri, 4 July
Spend the first hour of the morning opening every cupboard and drawer, and peering under and behind every item of furniture in my apartment. It’s unlikely that Saddam Hussein is in Perpetual Opulence Mansions, but what can I say? US$25 million is US$25 million. Leave a note asking the Filipino elves to continue the hunt. While al-Takriti is apparently not here, I do discover an ornate box with the Chinese characters “Mandate of Heaven (extra small)” on it, with a label saying “if found, please return to the Chief Executive, HK SAR”. It could come in useful – but with Anson Chan rearing her fine head, I think I’ll follow the advice of the small print on the bottom and “dispose of thoughtfully” in the recycling bin on the Mid-Levels Escalator above Hollywood Road.