Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong’s most obnoxious expat

1-7 September, 2002
Mon, 2-Sat 7 Sep
What deprivations S-Meg Holdings managers must endure to compensate for the Big Boss’s growing fondness for hiring a private jet when he travels!  Our nightmarish trip to Shanghai on Monday involves a ferry ride to Shenzhen, SUV to the airport, and a cheapo flight on a hitherto unheard-of airline’s all-economy class 737.  To add insult to injury, we are booked into serviced apartments, albeit just off People’s Square – with the exception of Number-One Son, who gets a suite at the Hyatt.  After unpacking, the entourage troops off for an afternoon at Wang Ke Company, our new acquisition. The offices are faded, dusty and peeling, as indeed are the dozen or so staff, who sit around drinking tea from mugs with lids.  The women sport ankle-length stockings. The men smoke incessantly. The only decorations are calendars on the wall and a picture of an only child on every desk.  Why we have bought into this miserable time-warp is a mystery to me.  After a few hours sifting through papers, our spotty accountant looks numbed.  Our Mainland fixer Freddy Mao has apparently given up trying to extract sense from the Wang Ke manager. Ms Tam has interviewed every employee and declares them to be next to useless.  Firings are in the offing. 
I drag Ms Tam off to dinner at a Xinjiang restaurant.   Introducing her to non-Cantonese food is a long shot, and will probably backfire, but the similarities between culinary and other sensual delights are well-known, and I despair of finding a better way to induce her to give in to her lust for me.  If all else fails, I will at least enjoy some excellent food. Her refusal to appreciate deliciously spiced chunks of roast lamb on the bone does not bode well, and her insistence on asking the Uighur waitress why there is no pork on the menu is frankly off-putting.  I decide to force feed her non-Cantonese food the whole week.  If the most grab-able buttocks in S-Meg are to remain ungrabbed, I may as well have some fun.

Tuesday, the S-Meg team discovers the existence of a subsidiary of Wang Ke in Beijing.  It dawns on me that we are doing due diligence after closing the deal.  We will head off for Beijing tomorrow. For dinner, I make Ms Tam try camel at another Xinjiang restaurant. To my delight, she absolutely hates it.
Light rain and cool air greet us in Beijing on Wednesday.  With the exception of the one percent visited by tourists, this is one of the most featureless cities in the world, and, of course, we are not staying in the 1 percent, but in a cheap hotel in what is laughably described as Beijing’s silicon valley – an area near Peking U with some computer stores and a Philips Electronics repair centre. The Wang Ke subsidiary is in the neighbourhood and proves to be a carbon copy of the Shanghai parent, with the exception of Sammi, a pretty secretary from Inner Mongolia who impresses me with her English.  She is tickled pink when I identify her as a Han and not a Mongolian and demands to know how I can tell. I can tell because I know that no Mongolian girl would test a 36C bra to its limits the way she does, but I simply say I have been in Asia a long time.  Urge Ms Tam to bring her to Hong Kong for career development over a seafood dinner of crocodile and turtle, both of which Chinese biology classifies as fish. She gets the crocodile down with difficulty, stoically declaring it to be like chicken.
On Thursday, Freddy Mao and the spotty accountant announce the existence of a sub-subsidiary of Wang Ke in, of all wretched places, Wuhan. I announce the existence of a pressing engagement in Hong Kong on Saturday and regret that I will be unable to go with them. Ms Tam also bails out. It suddenly occurs to me that we have left Number-One Son in Shanghai. Panic as Freddy frantically tries to locate the gormless S-Meg heir. Not sure what happens.  There will be hell to pay if we lose him permanently.  Spend the afternoon strolling round the Forbidden City, where every 15th Century building has in fact been rebuilt far more recently and now houses a mishmash of old-looking junk rather than authentic period furniture, the latter having been burnt by communists or is “kept in Taibei”.  In the evening, I introduce Ms Tam to the delights of old-style Beijing food, including anonymous meat laced with hot peppers and cumin, and the famous “three no-sticks” – a sweet, yellow, mucus-like substance that appears dangerously adhesive but mysteriously doesn’t stick to the plate, the spoon or the tongue. She loathes it.
Straight to the airport on Friday morning. Growing soft in my old age, I take Ms Tam to the cafeteria and treat her to frog congee, which she gratefully devours. What a waste of a week.