Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
1-6 September 2003
Mon, 1 Sept
The Big Boss drags me along on a tour of HK University of Science and Technology, up in the New Territories.  As a potential donor/string-puller, he gets the red carpet treatment.  The institution has a policy of granting honorary degrees to academics only who are ethnic Chinese, who are presumed to act as role models for the pimply students.  Bizarre or pathetic?  Pathetic. Stupid question.  On a brighter note, the psychology faculty is doing excellent work, quantifying how “boring” people are.  According to their research, 32% of the HK population are boring, versus 57% worldwide.  But 89% of HK golfers are boring, versus 73% internationally – in other words only 11% of HK golfers come from the 68% of the population that is non-boring.  The breakdown by district confirms long-held impressions.  The dullest individuals, as anyone who has attended their wife-swapping parties will know, are concentrated in the sterile isolation ward that is Discovery Bay.  The next most tedious are the inmates of the low-rent, private-sector, rabbit-hutch dormitories of Shatin, Chai Wan and similar soulless wastelands.  The data show that tenants of public housing estates are relatively interesting, and I agree (or, as a bore would say, “concur”). Their colourful approaches to courtship on public transport, debt-collection and even suicide are a tribute to the wit and verve of our fascinating lower orders.  Only the inhabitants of the rural bohemian idylls of our highlands and islands and – I am delighted to find – the neighbourhood around Perpetual Opulence Mansions are more scintillating.
Tue, 2 Sept
Would the HK Government be justified in giving US$5 million of taxpayers’ money to the Rolling Stones for
playing here?  Narrow-minded, unimaginative commentators respond with a clear and simple “no”.  In all fairness, however, there is more than one answer to the question. “Never,” “of course not” and “are you insane?” spring to mind, along with “will someone please put Mike Rowse in a straitjacket before he throws yet more public wealth down the toilet?”  Glancing along my shelves, I find just one CD by the geriatric Stones – Their Satanic Majesties Request, part of my collection of 60s psychedelia.  Hallucinogenic
drugs have a lot to answer for.  How else could Hong Kong have ended up with the world’s first state-owned Disneyland?  And now, millions for Mick Jagger.  That money could be used for something useful, something that would benefit the community and enrich society – like a weekend-long festival featuring the 13th Floor Elevators, Moby Grape, the Incredible String Band, Love and the Jefferson Airplane.

Wed, 3 Sept
Just days after lamenting the decline and fall of the traditional Hong Kong typhoon since the British left, I sleep soundly through the mild visitation of wind and rain that passed for
Typhoon Dujuan.  Things started well yesterday, when the offices of Central emptied at 1pm.  Panic-stricken mobs converged on buses and trains, despite having hours to spare.  Not wishing to burden the public transport system, self-sacrificing gwailos flocked to Lan Kwai Fong, nobly resigned to spending the entire night in bars so that others could return home.  In the supermarkets, frenzied shoppers picked up a week’s supply of everything they could find.  Stores closed, shutters came down.  Then, as we would expect in these dismal, post-1997 times, it all fell flat.  The weather system fizzled out, or just went.  Storm warnings were cancelled by 3am, and Ms Fang the hunter killer secretary arrives at S-Meg Tower an hour late this morning, having naively decided not to set her alarm clock.  Obviously, some sort of weather happened.  A few leaves needed to be cleaned from the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning, and the nearest trees are some 17 miles away.  But it’s just not like the old colonial times, when buildings collapsed – unless the mudslides got them first – and drowned schoolchildren and pythons floated in the harbour after being washed into storm sewers on the Peak.  Just more of the limpness, disappointment and anti-climax that characterize the Tung Dynasty.

Thurs, 4 Sept
The Hang Seng Index hit 11,100 yesterday.  SARS is a distant memory.  What better time, therefore, for our visionary Government to dredge it all up again through a high-profile, global announcement that we have “recovered”.  This is an act of spite.  HK$80 million of our money will be frittered away on
concerts by the Stones, Jose Carreras and various nonentities as punishment.  Punishment for bouncing back before the Government had the chance to plan, organise and lead a recovery.  Punishment for proving that we don’t need this bloated, overpaid public sector.  I put this to the shapely rather than bloated Administrative Officer Winky Ip over breakfast at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club.  “The Government's like a spoilt child who insists you take part in some make-believe fantasy,” I tell her.  “Hong Kong got back on its feet without bureaucratic direction – live with it!  It’s the same with economic integration with the Mainland.  The private sector’s been doing it for 20 years – then officials charge in telling us it’s the way to go.”  Winky smiles patiently and points at the newspaper.  “Who are these people?” she asks.  I take a look.  Craig David, Umoja, Westlife, Jay Chou, the Wiggles.  “They’re very famous, extremely talented artists whose works offer valuable insights into the human condition,” I reply, assuming the names were made up by the South China Morning Post.  “I’ve never heard of them, either,” she admits, pouring tea.
Fri, 5 Sept
Bonzo the retarded lion stares forlornly over my shoulder as I hold a crisp, new HSBC banknote up to the light to examine the space-age security features that will make the
latest issue of Hong Kong currency forgery-proof – which is what they said last time.  The Bank of China and Standard Chartered will also be issuing new notes, all with exciting new designs.  Indeed, “riveting” is the word!  It’s excellent news for fans of suspension bridges and airport terminals, which the imaginative folk at HSBC and BoC have decided represent Hong Kong in all its glory – concrete, steel, glass and no people.  (StanChart – a haven for perverts at the best of times – has chosen nostalgic harbour views and Chinese-style animals, apparently believing that distinct Hong Kong imagery belongs on banknotes.)  People wonder whether Joseph Yam, our Monetary Authority boss, is worth his HK$8 million salary. They point out that our monetary policy is decided in the US by Alan Greenspan for less than a sixth of the remuneration. But they forget Joseph's essential role as monetary aesthete-general, the arbiter of the Fragrant Harbour’s numismatic style. And he has done us proud by approving these elegant new offerings.  A comparison with the grubby Renminbi is telling.  The Mainland cash has a picture of Mao on one side and happy yak herdsman frolicking in the tundra on the other.  We take suspension bridges too much for granted – just because they’re all over the world and they all look the same.  Only Hong Kong has the boldness and vision to pay homage to these important and useful structures on its banknotes.  Hong Kong hearts will swell with pride when we lay our eager little fingers on these inspiring works of art.
Out of the blue, our decisive Chief Executive cans the Article 23 national security legislation.  CH Tung has an uncanny knack of being predictable when you least expect it.  The withdrawal might give his friends a slightly better chance at next year's Legco election, so no surprise there.  But it leaves his senior people looking stupid – by any standards – since no-one told them about it until 5 minutes before (though this is an improvement on the famous reversal of housing policy that was revealed to them and all of us 2 years after implementation).  Xinhua scores 8 out of 10 for putting a positive spin on this mess.  Privatized, they have a future.