Hemlock's Diary
The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat

30 May-5 June 2004

Mon, 31 May
A sharp rap on the door, and S-Meg Holdings’ new human resources boss Ms Leung Yuk-mei strides belligerently into the company gwailo’s office.  Without being asked, she sits opposite me and places two company ties on the desk, puce and lime green stripes of cheap silk gleaming through their plastic wrappers.  “Please sign for them,” she says curtly, passing me a requisition form.  “They must be returned when you leave the company.”  I nod and put the sartorial horrors in the bottom desk drawer, where they join 14 others, all unopened.  “Under company rules,” she continues, “you must wear them on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.”  I give her my best non-committal smile.  “Also under company rules,” she says in an increasingly stern tone, “everyone must swipe their cards through the timekeeping machine in the lobby.  And they must adhere to official working hours.  The records show you either don’t clock in and out, or you do so at strange times.”  She leans forward with an accusing look.  “You often leave in mid-afternoon.”  I smile condescendingly.  “Furthermore,” she says looking over my shoulder, “I see you have a general manager’s chair.  The seat back goes up to head height.  At your level the seat back should only go up to shoulder height.”

Sensing that she is just getting started, I get up, close the door and return to my undeservedly comfortable seat.  “Listen,” I say quietly in my best ‘reasonable and friendly’ tone, “do you know exactly what I do here?”  No, she doesn’t, she admits, clutching my personnel file on her lap.  I take a deep breath.  “Hmm… I think you should ask the Big Boss to explain.”  She stares at me.  “Mind you, some of it’s rather sensitive,” I say regretfully.  “Do make sure you ask very carefully and discreetly.”  She nods slightly nervously as I open the door again.  Time to go.  She won’t ask the Big Boss anything.  “Oh by the way,” I mention as she leaves, “if you hear any rumours about cannibalism in the Accounts Department…” I look at her intensely, “…they’re completely untrue.  Completely.”  She blinks at me for a few seconds, turns and scuttles away to stick pins in a doll or make a potion from lizards and dogs’ eyes.  Another victory for freedom and justice in the struggle against totalitarianism and evil.

Tue, 1 June
Perplexed to find that threatening the pro-democracy media actually increases support for the cause, Beijing’s spin doctors arrange for one Cheng Shousan to
reveal himself as the late-night caller who convinced Allen Lee to quit the Teacup in a Storm radio talk show.  Cheng was Lu Ping’s sidekick – the deputy boss of the HK and Macau Affairs Office who announced back in 1996 that the PLA would after all station armed troops in Hong Kong and loudly demanded that the British take the Vietnamese boat people with them in 1997.  Now retired, he spends his late evenings phoning people who barely recall ever meeting him to tell them how pleasant their wives and daughters are.  Silly Allen.  All a big misunderstanding.  And quickest on the draw with the shoe brush is would-be Chief Executive CY Leung, wiping goat blood from his mouth and remembering Cheng as ‘earnest and serious’, closely followed by NPC member Raymond Wu, waving dog biscuits in the air and telling us Cheng was ‘laid back’.  Mood swings aside, a jolly decent sort. 

A bold reminder of the deep concern Beijing has for Hong Kong’s pitiful economic plight.  A fine example of the boundless munificence of the Mainland towards the plucky little harbour folk.  An excellent opportunity to forget politics and focus on the Really Important Priorities like co-operation and integration and partnership and development and logistics and hubs and initiatives and taking a proactive role.  An unprecedented commitment by nine provincial governors plus Macau’s Chief Executive and our own visionary crop-haired one to clog up the traffic on Cotton Tree Drive during the rush hour while being bussed to a banquet at Government House.  To repeat – an excellent opportunity to forget politics.  The next big object of veneration for obsequious chambers of commerce and empire-building Trade Development Council bores, with a hype-to-substance ratio rivalling Cyberport and CEPA.  The perfect occasion for the
South China Morning Post to craft boot-licking headlines like ‘Sichuan excited about ties that bind’.  A superb excuse to concoct a tacky, Mainland-looking logo.  9+2.  It’s the Pan-Pearl River Delta… thingamajig.
Wed, 2 June
Legco President Rita Fan, legislators David ‘flying pig’ Chu and Ambrose Lau, DAB boss Ma Lik and nearly every other patriot in town suddenly stands up to announce that they have had a casual meeting with Cheng Shousan, received his best wishes to their families, been assured that he does not represent Beijing, and not felt threatened in any way.  Unlike – they are too subtle to spell out – delusional paranoid Allen Lee.  Convincing or what?  Let's pile it on.   Corpulent NPC Deputy Maria Tam says Cheng is far too nice a man to put pressure on anyone.  Mainland NPC Standing Committee member Li Fei says “all the truth now has come to light.”  Case closed.  As spin-doctoring goes, it gets three out of ten for being so ridiculously slick.  But for Beijing that’s well above average.  There’s hope for them yet.

A call from Kowloon gaming friend Heung Kwok-leung.  Shouldn’t Rita go into the book of potential Chief Executives?  As the Big Boss likes to say, I am minded to concur.

Rita Fan    7-1     Pros – Few natural predators.  Better leftist credentials than tycoons and other rivals.  Popular among the locals, who see only her ‘nice’ act as Legco speaker.  Wittily called Chris Patten ‘last emperor’.  Good compromise if Shanghai clique and Hu-Wen are at loggerheads over other possibilities.   Cons – Little business, administrative experience.  Stamps small furry animals to death with spike-heeled shoes.

A rare message from Walter W Wilde Esq reminds me of ‘Chief Whip’ Mrs Fan’s fondness for leatherwear and disciplinary accoutrements, captured on film so fetchingly by Hong Kong’s last surviving colonial district commissioner himself.  KL Heung will surely raise the odds to 3-1 at least when he finds out.  I will put some money on the old girl straight away.

Thurs, 3 June
Gliding down the Mid-Levels Escalator, I see a despondent-looking American friend Odell.  He is upset because lame, mushy, easy-listening pop group The Eagles are coming to town and will be charging up to HK$2,750 for tickets.  “Nearly three thousand bucks,” he complains.  “Incredible.  But I have to go – they’re my favourite band of all time.”  I let out an exasperated snort.  It pains me to have friends with so little taste.  For a fraction of the cost, I tell him, he could get all the early Flying Burrito Brothers albums.  He’s never heard of them.  “When you were a teenager in a Mormon community,” he says defensively, “The Eagles were freaky stuff.”   At this point, as we approach Queen’s Rd, I am mobbed by scores of red-eyed, sulphur-breathed intellectual property lawyers, clamouring for me to sue the Financial Times – the lame, mushy, British newspaper.  They show me evidence of plagiarism…
Losing one outspoken radio commentator is, as Oscar Wilde would have said, a misfortune.  Two seems like carelessness.  And three looks like organization…
Me, 23 May

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the loss of one radio talk show host may be regarded as a misfortune, but to lose two looks like carelessness. Losing three seems downright sinister.  Yet Hong Kong has done just that.
Financial Times editorial, 2 June
I am not convinced.  The guilt, I am ashamed to say, surely lies with me for being so unoriginal as to write the facile sort of comment that leaps to the banal mind of an FT leader writer.  Oscar would have cringed.  “Consistency,” he said, “is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

In the office, I peruse the papers.  Excellent news!  Peculiar acquaintance A-Hing, the infamous Mid-Levels Dog Strangler, is back in carbofuran-laced action after a long absence – during which savage, disease-spreading and noisy canines have roamed large swathes of Hong Kong island without fear.  But is A-Hing losing his touch?  The two labradors he poisoned on Black’s Link yesterday were owned by veterinarians, of all things, who expertly performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and open-heart surgery on their mutts in the middle of the road, thus sparing the creatures their doom.  Still, it was close.  One of the owners tells the
SCMP “…their bodies were so hot they were starting to cook internally.”  What an excellent idea – the self-cooking dog.  That would knock a few Renminbi off the price of a plate.
Fri, 4 June
The 15th anniversary of the correct and necessary measures to avoid counter-revolutionary turmoil.  I can’t help wondering what a tiresome newspaper like
The Independent has done to deserve a class act like Jasper Becker, whose stature as a China writer can be gauged from the quality of his commentary today on the ‘event’ and its aftermath – and of course from the fact that the SCMP got rid of him.

Polly the lipstick lesbian calls to say she is hosting dinner this evening at a Xinjiang restaurant – she was always a big fan of Wu’er Kaixi and was surprised at how overweight he looked at Anita Mui’s funeral, as if the rest of us have grown thinner since 1989. After our Uygur meal we will go to Victoria Park for the candlelight vigil.  She is dismayed at how the massacre means so little to today’s students.  I remind her that they were five at the time.  They never felt the emotions.  The tantalizing build-up – week after week after week, when something amazing seemed possible.  And then the crushing end – hours and days when Hong Kong stood staring at the television, gripped by horror.  And the rumours – 100 killed on a bridge in Wuhan, a workers’ uprising somewhere in Shandong, rows of tanks lined up just over the border in Shenzhen, guns pointing south.  My own inclination, though I keep it to myself, is to let it go.  We have to live with the beast, whose latest implicit admission of guilt comes in the form of a four-hour video documentary giving the official version.  It will all come out in good time. 

Polly, intent on being embarrassing company this evening, wants a slogan to paint on her t-shirt.  I offer her one – “Lies written in ink can never disguise facts written in blood” (Lu Xun).
Rather than dwell on the past, should we not concentrate on the many challenges we face today?  To my delight, I read in The Standard that Hong Kong’s Transport Department is doing just that by re-numbering our main roads.  Good news for the Big Lychee’s motorists and for vendors of hallucinogenic drugs to the Road Safety and Transport Division…
The changes include combining Routes 7 and 8 along Hong Kong Island's northern coast and renaming it Route 4, and changing the section of the original Route 2 from Kowloon Bay to Tsuen Wan to Route 5.

The New Territories loop has been renamed Route 9, while the original Route 9 on Lantau is now called Route 8, while Route 6 has been retained for future use.

“It will be easier for the public to remember which route is which route,”
[transport official] Johnny Chan said.
I am not worthy to pay tax to these wondrous people.