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

31 October-6 November 2004

Sun, 31 Oct
It is one of this city’s ugliest health problems  – intelligent, productive citizens fall prey to a rapid-onset mental disease that leaves them babbling, wild-eyed lunatics.  The affliction first manifests itself as a naïve belief that the Hong Kong Government is fundamentally capable of acting rationally.  When presented with the sight of a city being ruined by incompetent leaders, victims suffer from delusions that officials are eager to learn of and adopt better policies.  As the disease progresses, victims start ranting obvious facts – for example, the Government should just go back to the non-interventionist economic policies that worked so well in the past.  In its later stages, sufferers of this dreadful disorder establish think-tanks like the
Lion Rock Institute and spout inanities like “People in government want to be free market.  I think if we put the facts in front of them, they will go along.”  It is sad.  We already have padded cells full of poor wretches who imagine the air should be clean or the harbour preserved.  Now this.  I suspect only additional regulation and public subsidies will stop this tragic illness from spreading further.  Meanwhile, their website clearly needs more resources – haven’t they heard of the Government’s HK$5 billion Innovation and Technology Fund?
Mon, 1 Nov
As the sun rises over Exchange Square, I find ex-Mormon friend Odell at his favourite table outside Pacific Coffee, in the middle of a blazing argument with his compatriot Hank Mullet.  “Coca Cola has made us despised overseas!” screams Odell.  “It only benefits the rich!  It’s driving up healthcare costs!  It’s destroying our environment!  Coke is killing America!”  Hank, red-faced, 250 pounds and balding, tugs at his elastic waistband and stands up, shaking his finger in Odell’s face.  “Pepsi Cola kills babies!” he blurts.  “It’ll destroy family values!  It’ll leave our country exposed to terrorists!  It’ll make us take orders from the French and the UN!” 

The enraged Odell turns to me.  “What d’you think of Coke?” he demands.  I take a deep breath.  “Well,” I say in what I hope is a calming tone, “my only big problem with it is that it rots your teeth.  But then so does…” 

“Rots teeth!” Hank shouts, banging the table with his fist.  “Not like Pepsi rots teeth!  Pepsi rots our second amendment rights!”  Odell snaps.  He stands up, flings his chair to the ground and pulls a can of pepper spray from his pocket.  Glancing at my watch – gosh, is that the time? – I edge past the pair towards IFC Mall to buy my mango and jojoba slurpy, trying my best to ignore the shrieks of “Flip-flopping, godless, liberal douche bags!” and “Creationist, hick, gun-nut losers!”
Tue, 2 Nov
I wake in a garbage-strewn alleyway in Wanchai with a terrible headache, dried booze and unmentionable bodily fluids staining my clothes, and three pairs of ladies’ panties in my clenched fists.  What on earth happened at last night’s Hello Kitty’s 30 Years – Touch of
Ribbon party?  My mind is a throbbing blur.  The last thing I remember was being asked by a drug-crazed American woman how her family back home should vote today.  “What would Jesus do?” she pleaded.  Jesus, I told her, would ask himself one simple question – what would irritate the French?  We found a PC, and after emailing this spiritual guidance to her parents, she set about ravaging me while I Googled I love George W Bush with all of my body (including my pee pee).  Then I must have passed out.

UNDER MOSAIC law, the ancient Jews would stone people to death for blasphemy.  In Medieval England, heretics would be tied to a stake and burned, their intestines hanging from their bellies.  To this day, in Islamic communities that take a rigorous approach to the matter, those guilty of
kufr may be subjected to a fatwa entitling any adult Muslim to nail them to a tree, smear them with honey and blood, and force them to listen to Kenny G CDs while killer bees and wild dogs gleefully devour their flesh.  But here in Hong Kong, our holiest writs, the very foundation of our religion – the actual supremacy and being of our god – may be questioned, ridiculed or even threatened with impunity.  If it were up to me, Financial Secretary Henry Tang would be strung up by his ankles and pelted with durians for even mentioning the phrase ‘capital gains tax’.  For the sacrilege of referring to such an abomination to our faith as an earthly possibility, he deserves to be chopped up and fed to Bo Bo the killer crocodile – nothing less.  There are those who say that his suggestion is just a ruse to shock the slimy idiot savant James Tien and the rest of his unprincipled Liberal Party into supporting a sales tax.  That is a worthy cause.  The 17 of us who currently pay any tax in this town need relief, and there is no better way than to extract revenue from the lower orders every time they purchase an egg tart, a Nicholas Tse album or a life-saving medicine.  But there are numerous ways to overcome the Liberal Party’s selfish opposition – lobotomies and thumbscrews spring to mind.  There can be no excuse for profanity and desecration.

Wed, 3 Nov
The Big Boss regales the morning meeting with an account of a discussion with Liberal Party nematode-in-chief James Tien.  To everyone’s amazement, the normally dull-witted and shallow Tien has had a sensible idea, namely that Hong Kong needs a continued pay freeze for its workforce, plus a cut in salaries tax for those of us whose skill and talent warrant remuneration in excess of HK$1 million a year.  The Chairman of S-Meg Holdings looks round the room at his senior management team and sees everyone nodding in agreement with the proposal.  He orders us to send the word out to staff that the economic recovery in the last 12 months has been fragile.  “I would love to hand out big pay rises,” the great man tells us in a remorseful tone, “but it would be irresponsible.”  More nodding.  “We need to manage expectations.” 

Thus it is that I stride into the Accounts Department on the 12th floor in mid-morning and survey the massed ranks of office fodder.  It is rare for the company gwailo to upset the feng shui by showing his pale visage in this deprived, open-plan neighbourhood of S-Meg Tower, and I detect a distinct murmuring among the staplers and computer monitors.  I clap my hands to silence the minions and gain their full attention.  “Now listen up, you worthless lumps of desk meat!” I shout.  “You think you’re getting a pay rise in January?  Forget it!  Thirteenth-month bonus?  In your dreams!”  The rows of cowering bean counters avert their gaze, looking down at their calculators to avoid catching the evil, round eye.  “Also,” I tell them, “the HK$10 meal allowance for people doing compulsory overtime will be scrapped.  Otherwise this whole department gets outsourced to Shenzhen.  Thank you, and keep up the good work!”

EARLY AFTERNOON, and despondent American friend Odell calls to bemoan the fact that it’s over – four more years of George W Bush look certain.  “I’m seriously, seriously pissed off,” he wails.  Don’t worry, I tell him, it’ll be a kinder, gentler George W Bush from now on.  If Odell's right, what I need to know is – how do I short the Iranian stock market?
Thurs, 4 Nov
Breakfast at the Foreign Correspondents Club with buxom Administrative Officer Winky Ip.  “Today’s the day,” she tells me in a hushed voice, “the Government announces its proposals on Civil Service pay.”  I rub my hands with glee and assure her that I sympathise with our devoted public servants, I won’t gloat, and I’ll pick up the tab for our congee and noodles.  “I know you will,” she smiles, “because I’m not an FCC member, am I?”  I urge her to spit it out – how much are our grossly overpaid public-sector sloths going to have their pay cut by?  Ten percent?  Twenty percent?  Fifty percent?  She shakes her head, trying hard not to suppress a grin.  She looks at me, barely able to contain her excitement.  “Zero!”  A huge grin.  “Zilch!”  I drop my chopsticks in shock and stare at her.  She’s lying.  “We’re just getting a pay freeze until inflation brings private-sector pay up to our levels!”  She spins round and punches the air.  “Yesss!”  I am speechless.  Winky composes herself, has a sip of tea and leans forward towards me again.  “And you know all those colonial allowances?  They’re just trimming them a bit!  Brilliant!”  Stunned and depressed, I take a deep breath.  The terrible truth slowly sinks in.  This will be the death of the Hong Kong middle class.  We have to support teeming millions of public housing tenants on welfare demanding ever more health care and schooling.  We have to sustain Liberal Party leaders’ rapacious cartels.  And now we must go on shouldering the burden of the world’s most arrogant, bloated and overpaid government workforce.  This is a tragic shock.  I suddenly know what it feels like to be one of those suicidal-looking John Kerry supporters.
Fri, 5 Nov
The mood on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning is grim, as Hong Kong’s disenfranchised, wealth-creating, tax-paying bourgeoisie comes to terms with the
news.  ‘Plan to freeze civil service pay, not cut it’ says the headline in the South China Morning Post.  “It’ll be years before our pay catches up with theirs,” complains a bitter, grey-suited executive.  “They should be paying our salaries, not the other way round.”  A marketing manager in a seasonal leather skirt looks up from her newspaper.  “And their unions still have the nerve to grumble!” she moans.  After my conversation with Winky yesterday, I am in a position to tell them what has actually happened.

“The grumbling’s largely an act,” I explain.  “The Government wants them to whine a bit – it’s supposed to make us think they’re suffering some dreadful unfairness.  But behind the scenes, our spineless leaders did a deal with the unions.”  All eyes are on me as the escalator glides us past Fetish Fashion towards Queen’s Road.  “The civil servants go along with this pay freeze without too much fuss, and in return the Government won’t mention the ‘P’ word.”  My fellow commuters look at me quizzically.  “Pensions,” I tell them.  “Civil servants’ inflated salaries are just half of it.  When they retire, you go on paying them until they die.”  The full, monumental, fiscal horror slowly dawns on them.  Civil servants don’t have to save for retirement like the rest of us.  It’s in addition to their salary.  “If the public realized how much extra these leeches are getting in fringe benefits,” I tell them, “people would slaughter civil servants out of self-preservation.  By shutting up, the unions can ensure that their members retire in luxury while your children starve.”  Shock slowly turns to anger.  Anger turns to resolve.  The revolution is one day closer.

“HERE, READ this rubbish and tell me if there’s anything in it I should know.”  I look up from my PC to see an envelope hitting my desk and the Big Boss disappearing from my office.  It is a consultation document distributed by our great city’s distinguished Financial Secretary Henry Tang, seeking the views of the great and the good on the Government’s 2005-06 budget.  Nothing much, just publicly available background data and ‘options’ Henry is pretending to consider.
To: Big Boss
From: Company Gwailo
Re: attached budget document

Main points:

Gross Mismanagement of Public Finances (HK$bn)
                                 97-98          03-04
Consolidated surplus/(deficit)    86.9          (40.1)
Fiscal reserves                  450             275
Operating expenditure            160             205
Operating revenue                205             175

Salaries Tax Injustice
Only 1.27% of the working population pay this tax at the full 16% rate. These 16,000 people pay 35.8% of total salaries tax.

Revenue Options – Blackmailing Opportunity
As well as unmentionable obscenities like a C*pit*l G*ins T*x, Henry asks whether he should abolish duty on alcoholic beverages to “encourage the tourism industry and develop Hong Kong as a regional hub for wine products.”  I recommend that you urge Henry to go ahead, in memory of his Lexus fan predecessor Antony Leung, as this would expose him to charges of conflict of interest, being the proud owner of a large wine collection kept in the UK to avoid HK duty.

Have a good weekend.