Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
1-7 June 2003
Sun, 1 June
The sight of a family – a mother, father, two young children and an infirm grandmother – sleeping in cardboard boxes by the side of the road might be distressing to some.  But this is the new, clean,
no-nonsense Hong Kong.  The lower orders will learn to lead hygienic, wholesome lives, or they will be evicted from their rancid concrete boxes, and they and their neighbours will learn a valuable lesson.  In this particular case, which I witness on a rare trip through Kowloon, the Chan family had been caught keeping a gerbil (5 points), leaving their putrid shoes out in the hallway (5 points) and not flossing their teeth (7 points). The smack of firm government echoes through our malodorous public housing estates at long last. 

Mon, 2 June
The tragic Operation UNITE organizer drops by my office, irritatingly enthusiastic.  “June the 7th, 10 in the morning,” he tells me excitedly.  “We’re calling it Take Off With Hong Kong!  Ten thousand healthy, smiling young people all wearing red, standing in the shape of a huge heart on the tarmac at the airport.  We’ve reserved some places for special guests – you want to come?”  I make a show of opening and consulting my
Economist desk diary.  “Hmm, next Saturday?” I ask.  “Oh dear – it seems I’ll be at home cutting my fingernails and then idly flicking through Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen’s IQ and the Wealth of Nations.”  He looks at me gravely.  “Hong Kong doesn’t need cynics,” he mutters.  Lynn and Vanhanen give Hong Kong an average IQ rating of 107, on a benchmark where the UK equals 100.  Even the good folk of sunny Equatorial Guinea (59) would find these embarrassing and condescending PR stunts intelligence-insulting.
Tue, 3 June
A credit, perhaps, to our iodine-rich diet of squid and other marine life.  Hong Kong has the highest IQ in the world.  Still, we are up to our ears in Hello Kitty.  Our newspaper readers crave the latest on TVB actress Chan Kei, who received a “disgusting letter” containing a “secretion” she suspected was semen.   Whoever lives in the apartment above mine drops something heavy, which rolls around, on exactly the same part of the floor, at exactly the same time, every evening. Someone thinks Jumbo Grade is a good name for a chain of stationery stores.  Your daughter will find a husband if you paint her bedroom door red and move the furniture around.  The Liberal Party’s James Tien has a seat on our top policy-making body.  What hellish cretinism does the rest of the planet endure?
Wed, 4 June
double fifth. As Samuel Johnson said, "an overweight gwailo paddling a dragon boat is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."  They look ridiculous.  But on the spectrum of embarrassing activities indulged in by the more declasse and less trim breed of expat, it is probably preferable to the absurd Matilda Sedan Chair race, and healthier than drinking in the appalling Joe Bananas.

A quiet day at home is interrupted by a muffled sound from the north.  Is that the smack of firm government again?  "Guangzhou to ban live poultry trade" says the headline.  Can Hong Kong avoid following suit?  Ageing gourmands will cling to their obsessive belief that poultry is inedible unless slaughtered minutes before cooking.  I could lend support by adding that the slitting of chickens' throats in residential neighbourhoods is of morbid fascination to some of our valuable tourists.  And the economically illiterate will blather on about job losses.  But… the next avian virus to cross over to humans might wipe us all out.  There is that.  And another smack!  "Migrants to HK to wait seven years for welfare".  Predictable
squealing commences.  But something strange is afoot.  The suspension of plans to chuck billions down the toilet on the Palace of Enormous Government at Tamar.  Zero tolerance for unsanitary tenants in public housing.  Not to mention whisperings about privatizing Ocean Park and Disneyland.  Could there still be hope for those of us who keep clean and pay tax?
April and May were exhilarating.  Hu Yaobang died.  The young stood up.  Freedom rang.  Hong Kong was carried away with the excitement. Then we watched in horror as the fist came down on live TV.  I still remember passing the small photocopy shop on Robinson Rd and seeing the dozens of smuggled photos posted in its window – bicycle frames and human flesh mangled up and moulded by tank tracks.  There were rumours of troops in Shenzhen poised to cross the border.  We wore black ribbons.  We mourned for ourselves in 1989.  But we never did see Tiananmen Square on Queens Rd.  And we turn up in large numbers with children in Victoria Park on this night every year, with feelings more of gratitude and nostalgia than we care to admit.  I wouldn't miss it for anything.
Thurs, 5 June
Fourteen years later, Hong Kong tries harder than ever to find excuses to wallow in self-pity.  Article 23, SARS, the fate of Romer’s tree frog, or – most depressing of all – rumours that our voluptuous dowager Security Secretary Regina Ip may be taking a leave of absence, or even standing down.  The antidote is breakfast at Yuet Yuen.  At my suggestion, they now offer beef congee with a dash of brandy stirred in, in addition to their previous two choices – plain, and with ground-up Prozac.  It puts a spring in your step, without turning you into a deranged maniac, committing acts of unprovoked violence towards strangers or frenzied self-mutilation.  My finest contribution to Cantonese cuisine.

Could anyone devise an event more hackneyed, more tedious, more likely to arouse suicidal tendencies, than the dismal-sounding parade being organized by the HK Travel Agent (
sic) Owners Association for 15th June?  A dragon and lion dance, with Guinness World Record aspirations, will be followed by a rackety Boy Scout band, a parade of simpering Cathay Pacific cabin crew and, most mind-numbing of all, a march-past by spotty travel agents.  The answer, of course, is yes – these people are amateurs.  The HK Tourism Board could make it far more tiresome, with children dressed up as flowers, grinning chefs swinging fresh noodles through the air and rickshaw pullers bringing up the rear.  Even so, it will be a fitting tribute to the architectural wonder that is Tsim Sha Tsui East.
Fri, 6 June
Find a small, pink gecko stuck in the cockroach trap in a corner of the kitchen.  The creature led a life full of ironies.  Designed to walk on ceilings with his adhesive little toes, he blundered onto a surface of strong glue.  And none of the six-legged morsels he had presumably hoped to find were present in the trap, so efficiently had he stalked them elsewhere in the vicinity.  The ultimate irony occurs to me as I throw him in his little coffin into the garbage – the two insect killers have cancelled each other out, leaving my kitchen the potential roach sanctuary of Perpetual Opulence Mansions.
“I don't know why they come and watch if they don't have the stomach for it,” says the contestant on What’s My Line?  President of the Legislative Council?  A Wanchai girlie bar dancer?  Or a civil servant?  What does he do to relax after a hard day in the office.?