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

29 February-6 March 2004

Sun, 29 Feb
Some news stories are so frequent that they belong in the weather report rather than the front page – like the latest
Hundreds Missing in Philippines Ferry Disaster.  The amazing thing is that they have any ferries left down there.  They sink or explode faster than they can be built.  A few more years and surely they will simply run out.

Polly the lipstick lesbian calls and begs me to accompany her to the buffet lunch at the Kowloon Hotel.  She won a free coupon for two, but no-one wants to join her.  I wonder why?  Is there anything worse than a cheap buffet?  The answer is, yes – a cheap buffet with hordes of Mainland tourists chomping and belching their way through the euro-canto-sushi fare, plus clans of Hong Kong's lower orders on a mission to eat their weight in low-quality oysters Because It's There.

Stuffed with olives, mango ice cream and squid, we repair to a Wanchai disco dungeon, in which we are by any standard the most eligible and attractive representatives of our respective genders, Polly's preferences notwithstanding.  And we are ignored, as the ugly and desperate loners circle and, before long, lunge at each other.  Sitting at the bar I find myself hemmed in by two examples of testosterone doing all it can to keep low-grade DNA in circulation.  To my left, a dark-skinned but transparently untrustworthy 20-something male sweet-talks and paws passing Filipino and Indonesian domestic helpers.  To my right, an overweight, tattooed, middle-aged Brit scowls through unshaven jowls.  The Brit nudges me.  "I don't mind Indians," he shouts discreetly over the noise of the music, looking over my shoulder, "so long as they don't
act like Indians."  He clearly resents the philanderer to my left, whose groping and flattery is horribly effective.  And how am I supposed to feel?  Slim, with no ugly designs etched into my lily-white, desirable-passport coloured skin, and apparently of no interest to dusky maidens on HK$2,000 a month.  Maybe I should wear overbearing aftershave and jewellery.  Or just leave Third World trysting to the experts.  The Brit glares at me.  "Well," I shout back,  "I feel the same way about Eskimoes.  Building igloos all over the damn place.  What can you do?"  

There has got to be a better way of spending Sundays.

Mon, 1 Mar
The perfect complement to a double espresso first thing in the morning – a strong dose of good, old-fashioned
ranting from the Washington Times on the situation in Hong Kong.  "Communist Party leaders from mainland China have responded by strengthening Mr. Tung's power base and making clear that direct elections will not be allowed in the so-called special administrative region for decades." The crop-haired one still has a power base?  That's news.  Last time I checked, poor old tofu-for-brains was naked, friendless and impotent. 

Hong Kong is a weapon in the tiresome Beijing struggle between Jiang Zemin's people and President Hu's, a conflict in which moderate, rational policies are the main victim.  The high-volume, unhinged rhetoric is bringing out the worst in our most unspeakable people.  Local tycoons denounce elections, seeing a chance to prolong their grip on Government.  Bitter old leftist dinosaurs hurl abuse everywhere, hoping, before they fade away, for a taste of the power they have been denied since 1997.  Would-be Chief Executives pontificate knowingly on patriotism, or indulge in high-profile tormenting of pro-democrats, as they see fit.  Meanwhile, seven million people shrug.  Those who have it, put it in the stock market – now just nudging 14,000, the highest since exactly three years ago tomorrow week.  It will blow over.  But how are the Moonies at the
Washington Times to know? 

I remember when
that newspaper hit the streets.  Literally.  Bundles of it landed with a thud on the humid sidewalks in the nicer neighbourhoods of the District of Colombia, free for the taking.  We were kids, it was back in the days before money or the Internet, so we read it.  Then they started charging for it and lost US$1 billion.  But I still have a soft spot for it.  Where else in 2004 can you read an editorial referring to "Red China"?
It is with considerable relief that I read in the South China Morning Post that langurs – unfathomably ugly Southeast Asian monkeys – are on the brink of extinction.  How many innocent little Vietnamese children have awoken screaming during the night after these repulsive-looking beasts appeared in their dreams?  They are not the only unlovable species on the way out.  Morose-looking turtles, shuffling laboriously around moonlit beaches, flapping in the sand to dig holes, laying disgusting, slimy eggs that invariably crack as they pile up on one another.  Panda bears, obstinately refusing to have sex, decimating placid bamboo groves by chewing their way through tons of shoots.  And the mountain gorillas of Burundi, with their impertinent, smug attitude and their disturbing, leering eyes.  Who can doubt that the world will be a prettier place without these brutes?
Tue, 2 Mar
It is not often that I find information in a Hong Kong blog that demands to be filed away for future reference.  However, I will definitely be relying heavily in future on parts
one, two and three of Waah's invaluable guide to Cantopop performers.  Limited knowledge of modern popular culture has always been the undoing of my Foreign Correspondents Club quiz team.  We sprint through questions on politics, history, science and literature, only to stumble over Britney Spears, David Beckham, Gigi Leung and all the other celebrities who so fascinate the lower orders.  Up to now, Cantopop star recognition for us has been a matter of classifying the performers into basic categories – male/female, living/dead and simpering/pouting.  Now, thanks to this comprehensive and highly reliable resource, we can enrich our knowledge of these talented singers and the contribution their art makes to our understanding of the human condition.

I join several other inmates of S-Meg Holdings for a lunchtime conference call with the Big Boss, who is in Singapore.  In between loud slurps of bak ku teh to improve his blood circulation, the great man bemoans our yet-to-be-announced 2003 financial results, for which we must devise convincing excuses.  The spotty accountant takes advantage of this miraculous state-of-the-art telecommunications technology by silently mouthing obscenities at the speaker-microphone.  Then, the Company Gwailo enjoys a leisurely afternoon.  I am reading
The Culture We Deserve by Jacques Barzun, who believes there is too much art.  We gorge but do not digest, as he puts it.  I find myself agreeing with his suggestion that overproduction of art increases the need for public subsidies.  If governments pay farmers not to produce food, he says, maybe they should pay artists not to produce art.  While I ponder this, there is a knock on the door.  An epsilon ventures as close as he dares to my desk, on which he respectfully deposits some internal mail.  After despatching him with a flick of the hand, I find it is a memo from Hong Kong’s most Neanderthal human resources department.  Several new-joining junior staff do not have English names as per company policy – could I assign some?  My pleasure.  Welcome to S-Meg, Albania Chiu, LaGuardia Ng, Rasputin Tsang and Isthmus Wong.

Wed, 3 Mar
No explosion of venom from Beijing mouthpieces today.  No mouth-frothing by a rabid geriatric legal expert declaring the Basic Law’s latest hidden meanings.  No Xinhua statement misleadingly quoting Deng Xiaoping’s 1984 comments on who should run Hong Kong.  No interview with a Mainland academic or journalist accusing Szeto Wah, Emily Lau and other enemies of the people of planning to overthrow the Central People’s Government.  And, locally, no ramblings on patriotism from self-seeking Exco members and Alzheimer’s-addled tycoons.  A hiatus.  And a good opportunity to pull up a seat and make ourselves comfortable for the next round of entertainment, as a US Senate sub-committee, clearly at a loose end, invites saintly democrat Martin Lee and similar bores to drone on about Hong Kong political reform tomorrow.  As a warm-up, the Foreign Ministry has issued the standard complaint about foreign interference.  The
HK Standard, under its new pro-Beijing editorial regime, says "tut-tut" and warns us of "…further fits of pique".  Excellent – can't wait!  There’s still time to get some beer in.

Thurs, 4 Mar
Martin Lee and cohorts are ‘clowns’ and ‘dreamers’, according to Vice Minister An Min.  It’s a more eloquent summary of the Hong Kong Democratic Party than he probably realizes.  I am more intrigued by the pronouncement from a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing – "...
any random comments are not necessary."  I suppose he is right.  Randomness and necessity are probably mutually exclusive.  If something is absolutely essential, we don’t leave it to chance. 

But random comments can be useful.  How else could I pass an hour at the Mandarin Hotel coffee shop this morning with a stranger – a Canadian friend of a friend passing through Hong Kong?  Finding that she is an English teacher, I give her my opinion of people too stupid to spell ‘colleague’.  I have nothing against the word ‘co-worker’, I tell her, but I hate the way people drop the hyphen to form ‘coworker’.  The sight of it on a page conjures up irrelevant bovine images, such as a fellow employee branding cattle.  She nods in agreement and blames Americans.  It seems they are taught only to hyphenate prefixes in order to avoid double vowels, as in ‘co-opt’.  Thanks to such small talk, the hour passes quickly. 

Would there be a market for "any random comments are not necessary" T-shirts?  People on the verge of spouting an inanity – "that’s a strange T-shirt" – would think better of it at the last moment and leave the wearer in peace.  Did the Foreign Ministry spokesman really need to say "any random comments are not necessary"?  If not, was his comment random itself?  Who needs
The Times crossword?  Disentangling the profundity, the obliqueness and the hint of menace in Mainland officials’ statements keeps the mind wonderfully supple.
Fri, 5 Mar
The Big Boss is in Beijing to attend the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – or "total waste of time," as he affectionately calls it.  Along with other Hong Kong tycoons, he pretends to understand speeches in Mandarin, nods when everyone else does, applauds, shakes hands with important people who might pat him on the head if he’s been good, has his photograph taken and generally hates it.  If he learns one new word in our national language while he's up there, it will be ‘family’.  China is a family.  China is one big family.  We are all part of the Chinese family.  Family, family, family.  Unmentioned up to three days ago, the word is suddenly on
everyone’s lips.  "Hong Kong’s political development is a family affair," our dashing Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa told National People’s Congress/CPPCC delegates yesterday.  The point being, "we should not go overseas and invite foreigners to interfere in our internal affairs."  Or, as wacky, laugh-a-minute State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan said, people "need not run to a foreign country to worship at their temple and invite a foreign buddha to say this and that." 

Condoleezza Rice, who gave the Martin Lee freedom tour 30 minutes of her time yesterday in Washington, is not family.  She is visibly not blessed with the seed of the dragon.  Not a descendent of the yellow emperor.  She is, as I would have advised Hugh Grant to put it, one beautiful
hak nui yan, not to mention American.  And here is wayward Martin discussing family affairs with her as if she’s our favourite aunt.  "All his brothers had hoped he would some day return and do good things for the family," laments DAB boss Ma Lik.  The SCMP spells it out...
Beijing plans to crank up propaganda
…dismayed at its failure to stir up patriotic passion among Hong Kong people and damage the pro-democracy camp...
I almost forgot – the vitriolic ranting of recent weeks was the ‘nice guy’ act.  Now, the Big Boss is being told in four gutteral, tongue-curling and incomprehensible tones, we’re going to get nasty.  Just another dysfunctional family.  Time to buy shares in ear-plug manufacturers.