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

1-7 August 2004

Mon, 2 Aug
Hong Kong’s hard-working, overtaxed, disenfranchised middle class glides its way down the Mid-Levels Escalator into the central business district of Asia’s international financial hub in its usual air of moral rectitude, professional probity and financial soundness.  But there is a weary silence this morning, almost a sense of defeat.  What is it? 

“Mauling!” shouts the news vendor.  “Mauling!” I reply.  He hands me the paper.  “Wa! Whore lit ah?”  Yes, that’s it.  This heat is oppressive.  It is 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity.  Sitting outside Exchange Square, sipping my chamomile and loganberry slurpy, it occurs to me that the weather is sapping people’s originality.  The editorial in
HK Magazine on Thursday jokingly lamented the fact that the ICAC hadn’t raided them.  The leader in Spike magazine on Friday jokingly lamented the fact that the ICAC hadn’t raided them.  Stuart Wolfendale in the Standard on Saturday jokingly lamented the fact that the ICAC hadn’t…  I am distracted by the sight of a short girl, aged around 20, jaunting along, pony tail bouncing, wearing a Hello Kitty T-shirt, tight yellow shorts and pink sandals and carrying an expensive-looking black leather briefcase. Interesting.  But I have a hangover.  It is all the fault of the Big Boss, who gave me his ticket to the People’s Liberation Army garrison’s parade at Sek Kong barracks yesterday.
I ended up crouched behind a tank, knocking back rice wine with a group of hard-drinking infantrymen listening to Cui Jian and Tang Dynasty on headphones, and thus came away from the event extremely drunk.  But I do remember getting the impression that there is something curious about the glorious motherland’s military establishment.  The camouflage on the vehicles, the cut of the uniforms, the shape of the helicopters – none of it quite looks the part.  There is something contrived about it, as there was about the patriotic nodding among the Cantonese crowd as the general barked out a speech in Mandarin.  Still, I wonder if they know something the rest of the world’s armed forces do not.  They are trained to roll over on the ground, leap to their feet, jump back with an arm held high, shout, and then jump in the air, bringing their fist crashing down onto a pile of bricks on a plank of wood balanced on a comrade’s head, splitting the stones into neat halves.  If Taiwan’s defenders think they’ll be safe with planks and piles of bricks on their heads, they’re dead meat.
Tue, 3 Aug
An idle morning, perusing the news in my office at the top of S-Meg Tower, while a Boccherini cello concerto plays on the PC.  Bo Bo the killer crocodile no longer frolics in Yuen Long Creek, but the
South China Morning Post reports a barking deer (deceased) with its head stuck in railings in the New Territories.  And piranhas have attacked a 14 year old boy in a housing estate fountain, leaving nothing but a small pile of bones and a clump of spiky ginger hair.  Sesame Street today was brought to you by the word ‘biodiversity’. 

The good news is that evil capitalists are successfully squeezing every last penny of profit possible from their exploited workers and long-suffering customers.  After outsourcing thousands of jobs from the UK to India, and ripping off depositors with 0.001 percent interest rates, HSBC reports record first-half profits and a quarterly dividend that will keep my refrigerator at Perpetual Opulence Mansions well-stocked with Jever beer, kimchi, gorgonzola, chorizo and other little pleasures for the foreseeable future. 

From the Mainland, mixed signals about whether the Big Lychee’s days are numbered.  In power-starved Shanghai – the city that’s going to take over from Hong Kong – young Red Guards are
descending on shopping malls and forcing shop owners to kneel on broken glass for using air conditioning.  Guangzhou, on the other hand, apparently poses a real threat to the Fragrant Harbour.  By breeding and sending us piranhas, perhaps?  No – by opening a new airport.  SCMP writer Joseph Lo intones “The timing has led some to fear that Chek Lap Kok’s privatization plans will be irreparably damaged and that it will become a white elephant in the face of competition.”  The privatization plans are unnecessary, and the idea of CLK being abandoned by travelers and airlines is absurd.  I rack my brain wondering who actually fears these things.  Sadly, the SCMP lacks the space to tell us.

Shoeshiner of the week award surely goes to one Greg Brolin, who writes in a letter to the editor…
Is the chopping down of trees at a Cheung Kong (Holdings) project really significant news, or is this a vendetta against Li Ka-shing by the Lai See column … Kwok's column gives the impression that he holds a grudge against Cheung Kong. Does he ever say what a great leader and man Mr Li is for his philanthropic donations to Hong Kong society and the employment opportunities he and his son Victor provide? What other tycoon has contributed as much as Mr Li?
Glancing at my stock portfolio, I am reminded that I still have the misfortune to own a small stake in Cheung Kong, languishing below HK$60 for ages.  I will track Greg Brolin down, maybe by 3G phone, and offer them to him for HK$75 – how can he refuse?
Wed, 4 Aug
The last day for nominations for September’s Legislative Council elections.  And so the Great Ooze begins, as candidates slithery and slimy wend their way from one corporate lair to the next in an effort to secure votes and win seats representing their little rotten boroughs in our little make-believe parliament.  As the Chairman of S-Meg Holdings’ many and varied subsidiaries, the Big Boss has votes in more than one functional constituency, and more than one vote to cast in several.  They line up to grovel – “I do hope I can count on your support.”

Like a globule of mucus dripping onto the upper lip of a pretty girl, the first odious supplicant emerges from the elevator and seeps across the pristine carpet of Private Office in S-Meg Tower this morning, shoe-shining kit in hand.  The Big Boss is there to greet him.  Give him face.  He might win.  He might be useful when a string needs to be pulled.  The problem is, with so few votes in the constituency divided among so few voters, it is almost impossible for the ballot to be secret.  So the Big Boss will hedge his bets and divide his votes among the candidates.
Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary vaguely looks on, either disapproving or indifferent, as the two disappear into a side room, followed by an epsilon in a butler’s uniform, carrying a silver tray of tea and dim sum.  And what drives these toads?  Why are they so desperate to get into the circus?  In today’s case, the campaigner aches for pure status.  If elected, he and his family will be able to use the VIP lounge at the airport, where check-in and immigration formalities are taken care of by a colleague of the minion pouring the champagne.  He will be ‘The Hon’, however dishonourable he may actually be.  And he will sport the tag ‘JP’, oblivious to the idiocy of a legislator in a part of the People’s Republic of China in 2004 bearing the title of a local judge in Edward III’s England of the 1320s.  As a Justice of the Peace, he will be entitled to enter any prison at any time to inspect conditions, though no-one will mind that he does not. 

Within minutes, the pair emerge, all smiles.  “I will certainly remember you on voting day,” affirms the Big Boss ambiguously.  They give each other a friendly wave.  As soon as the lift door closes, he turns to me.  “Stupid little man,” he mutters.  Ms Fang smirks.  “The Mainland officials are saying don’t vote for him, so…”  He shrugs.
Thurs, 5 Aug
I wake to find myself in a hotel room with a drab, smoggy, skyscraper-strewn city sprawling outside the window.  Where am I, and how did I get here?  Early yesterday afternoon, I recall the Big Boss ordering me and fearsome human resources manager Ms Leung Yuk-mei to fly at a moment’s notice to investigate a staff problem at an overseas branch of S-Meg Holdings.  By early evening, we had marched into a dusty office and gone into action.  Ms Leung was sticking slivers of bamboo up under the fingernails of one or two recalcitrant and under-performing employees, while I stood by being white.  This ‘shock and awe’ combination inspires without fail.  Back at our hotel, I remember seeing Ms Leung to her room and leaving her alone with a box of her favourite Purina treats.  Then I went round the corner to Malone’s Bar, where I was listening to a band playing Smiths covers until the early hours of the morning, hence my slowness right now in gathering my thoughts.  Now it comes back to me.  This is Shanghai.  To be precise, it’s the Portman Ritz-Carlton gwailo ghetto on Nanjing West Road, with its Starbucks, HSBC ATMs, Hard Rock Café and convenience store selling Hershey’s Kisses.  Ms Leung should be back in the office right now, taking a sledgehammer to an accountant’s kneecaps, which she finds therapeutic.  I will meet her at the airport in a few hours for a flight back to Hong Kong. 

I am delighted to note that Shanghai is forging ahead in accordance with China’s current five-year plan, under which the city is to join New York and London as a world-class cosmopolitan financial hub, full of lawyers, overpriced wine bars and Somali PhDs cleaning the toilets.  In particular, I am pleased to see that the local police are to be issued with
pepper spray.  They won’t regret it.  In my experience, it is especially effective on Jehovah’s Witnesses and yapping dogs.  The capsicum concentrate also serves as a man’s version of Tabasco in the kitchen – a single squirt transforms a pot of chili.  So far as I know, this makes it unique among personal-defence weapons.
Fri, 6 Aug
Sitting on the toilet, having what Lord Baden-Powell used to refer to as one’s ‘daily clear’, could there be any reading matter more fascinating and illuminating to peruse than the latest
six-monthly report on Hong Kong from the UK’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to Parliament?  I certainly can’t think of any, as my eyes light upon paragraph 56...
The British Government was surprised by the intervention of the central authorities on these issues. In 1993 Lu Ping (then Director of the Hong Kong and Macau Office of the State Council) stated that " how Hong Kong develops democracy in the future is entirely within the autonomy of Hong Kong" (People's Daily of 18 March 1993, quoted in South China Morning Post of 30 March 2004). Moreover, although Article 158 of the Basic Law gives the NPC Standing Committee the power to interpret the terms of the Basic Law, Lu Ping reportedly told the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce on 26 April 1989 that the NPC Standing Committee "would restrict itself to interpreting only the provisions which are the responsibility of the Central Govenment or the relationship between the central authorities and the SAR". We do not consider that the formation of the Legislative Council concerns the relationship between the central authorities and the SAR. We consider, therefore, that the 6 April Interpretation together with the 26 April Decision place new limitations on the autonomy of Hong Kong which appear to be inconsistent with the Joint Declaration.
The UK, with its nuclear weapons, psychopathic sports fans and unspeakable food, could lay to waste great swathes of the glorious motherland.  Beijing could be turned into a parking lot at the press of a button.  Shanghai could be kicked and vandalized and puke-doused back into the Shang Dynasty at the blast of a soccer referee’s whistle.  The entire middle kingdom could be struck down with heart attacks, obesity and mental retardation after just a few weeks on Heinz baked beans, deep-fried Mars bars, ‘sausages and chips’ and frozen burgers.  So this report on China’s broken promise on Hong Kong is a mild rebuke.  It is, as a British statesman once said of an ineffective verbal attack, like being savaged by a dead sheep.  Towards the end, however, I find to my wry amusement that the spotty young civil servant compiling the report sticks the knife in by mentioning the hollowness and irrelevance of the ridiculous attempts by the Mainland (GDP per cap – US$1,000) to assist the economy of Hong Kong (GDP per cap – US$25,000) and make us forget about politics…
Between January and April 2004, the value of goods exported under CEPA represented 3.4% of total domestic exports and 0.132% of total goods (including re-exports) exported from Hong Kong to the mainland.
CEPA – the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement – the free-trade agreement that would save Hong Kong by giving it privileged access to China's vast domestic market and thus boundless wealth, was implemented at the beginning of 2004.  Buried away in our own Government’s data is the fact that Hong Kong’s domestic exports of goods to the Mainland in the first half of 2004 were actually 3 percent lower than in the SARS-plagued period a year earlier. It would distress me if this unfortunate and embarrassing statistic became widely known.