Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat

2-8 March 2003
Sun, 2 Mar
A quiet night in, finishing Maurice Cranston's biography of
John Locke, then early to bed.  And a good thing too, as I am awakened at 6.00am by the doorbell.  The milkman?  No, I never touch the stuff, and what would a milkman be doing in Hong Kong?  Jehovah's Witnesses special forces on a dawn raid?  No, they know I am armed.  A glance through the peephole shows a short, slim, pleasant-looking Chinese girl.  As soon as I open the door, she stumbles past me.  "I'm drunk," she announces, crashing to a sofa and apparently passing out. Shrug and return to bed.  Within minutes she joins me, removing clothing and demanding to be serviced.  Duty done, I shower, go out to get some ingredients for breakfast and then catch up with events on the Internet while she sleeps.  The young lady eventually gets up, eats, and leaves at midday saying it was great to see me again.  Has she been to Perpetual Opulence Mansions before?  The face looked vaguely familiar, but I can't be sure. Or was it just weird coincidence?
Probably the latter. The planets are in an unusual alignment.  "Dr" Stanley Ho, who added a share of the highly respected Emperor Group's Pyongyang Casino to his Macau gambling empire a few years ago, says North Korea will offer Saddam Hussein asylum, with a free mountain thrown in, provided candidates taking US funds in subsequent Iraqi elections are shot. Chile, the one country in which unsightly and unoriginal antiwar protestors have not stripped naked, finally falls into line.  Sir Donald Tsang uses his population policy as a lame excuse to rub Singapore's dictatorial snout in it ("…we value freedom…we can criticise…") – and why not?  It's a cheap target, but it's fun.  Pakistan hands over 9-11 mastermind KS Mohammad (aka "toast") to the US.  Finally, HK delegates to the National People's Congress heap superficial praise on our decisive Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, in thinly-veiled calls for him to "reign not rule" (a South China Morning Post idea – raising fascinating questions about proprietor Robert Kuok's role in the "dump Tung" campaign.)  Will stock up on bottled water and dry rations. It's all falling together.
Mon, 3 Mar
The Big Boss is in Beijing for the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, accompanied by his wife, who is there to keep his paws off the overweight, ageing actresses who appear to do such wonders for,
inter alia, his Mandarin.  So, a relaxing morning at home – kedgeree for breakfast, and then plough through the SCMP while the two Filipino elves perform sock-ironing and other redundant tasks to pad out their HK$60 per hour part-time wages.  Bereft of ideas, the newspaper is conducting polls of its readers, to which I email intellectually rigorous responses. 
- Does HK need more than two world-class research universities? It has none and needs none.  We do money-grubbing – leave the science to eggheads in the US. 
- Should the legless lizard halt development of the superjail? Be more specific – which legless lizard?  I know so many. 
- Should private kitchens be allowed to flourish?   What a stupid question.  It should read “Why does HK’s cretinous, bloated, licence-obsessed government insist on trying to crush private enterprise at every opportunity?” If I want to start a restaurant in my apartment, why shouldn't I?

Tue, 4 Mar
SCMP’s sad attempts to ingratiate itself with the comrades in Beijing continue, with a new format putting “national” news at the front of the paper and relegating Hong Kong trivia, like yesterday’s murder of a security guard, to the lifestyle and horoscopes section. Good news for those of us who find bus crashes in Zhejiang endlessly fascinating (and, I suspect, for the HK Standard).  The object of the Post’s embarrassing and frequent shining of Mainland shoes – permission to publish a China-wide English daily – is of course as distant as ever. 

Jake van der Kamp, the rag’s token readable writer, skewers the ridiculous Professor Edward Chen for demanding yet more socialist central planning on the grounds that “market forces no longer work”. Jake points out that Chen’s so-called “university”, Lingnan, has such low standards that it wouldn’t last five seconds without public money.  True, if a bit cruel. I will email the columnist to remind him of the excellent remedial work Lingnan does for its educationally subnormal students, even teaching them
how to use a knife and fork, eat with their mouths closed, and cover their mouths when yawning – skills that I hear remain sorely lacking over on Kowloon-side.

Shareholder activist David Webb comes up with a stunt far more amusing, let alone productive, than a silly Greenpeace spectacular. In “
Project Poll” he will arrange for five people to attend the shareholders’ meetings of the top 33 companies and demand a poll on every resolution.  He will also appoint reporters as proxies, so they can attend.  How to make yourself popular in Hong Kong’s family gathering places-cum-boardrooms.
Wed, 5 Mar
Encounter depressingly dull Desmond, a time-serving waste of space on 1980s-era expatriate terms at venerable British hong, the Swine Group, and his mouse-like wife. Last time I saw him he urged me to join the Masons – the mafia of mediocrity.  Desperate for an alternative to each other’s company, I suppose, they drag me off to Starbucks for some hot, brown, water-flavoured liquid.  Desmond blandly recites his joke of the month (“What’s the difference between a Frenchman and a piece of toast?”), to the dutiful amusement of Mrs Mouse, who must have heard it 20 times.  He then manages to produce a string of four statements, each of which I delight in exposing as false.  “There used to be a sign saying
No Dogs or Chinese in a Shanghai park.”  No, Desmond, there wasn’t. “You can see the Great Wall from space.”  No, another myth.  He mentions the old Chinese curse – “May you live in interesting times”.  No, Desmond – it was invented by an American science fiction writer.  Finally, as I sip a glass of water, “I hope that’s not distilled – it leeches minerals from your body.”  No, Desmond, propaganda spread by mineral water companies.  As I leave, the mouse has a shocked look on her face as the awful truth dawns on her.  Every single thing her husband has told her in their 18 mind-numbing years together has been complete rubbish.
A precis of Financial Secretary Antony Leung's 2003-04 budget: the handful of us who pay tax will pay more, so the bloated, overpaid public-sector scum can continue gorging themselves on our wealth. To quote old Tom, who knew a brewing taxpayers' revolt when he saw one, "These are the times that try men's souls".

Thurs, 6 Mar
Will diminutive sexpot President Arroyo of the plucky little Philippines bring mighty Hong Kong to its knees by
banning Filipinas from coming to the Big Lychee to wash dishes?  Facing the prospect of having their socks ironed by swarthy Indonesians wearing peculiar-coloured lipstick, Hong Kong's middle classes will no doubt march in their millions to beg their evil rulers to push maids' minimum wage up to HK$20,000 a month plus chauffeur-driven car. Arroyo is an economist, but presumably skipped class the day the teacher introduced the concept of "price taker" – a producer whose lack of market influence requires it to accept whatever sum customers care to offer.

Fri, 7 Mar
En route to the Body Shop to stock up on my favourite mint, mango and oatmeal shampoo, I witness a spectacular, unprovoked killing while coasting down the Mid-Levels Escalator. A raptor with a five-foot wingspan swoops into Staunton Street, briefly rears up against a fourth-floor window ledge, and then flies up and along with a grey bundle in its claws, leaving a small cloud of pigeon feathers behind.  Unlike the miserable human population, our black kites have not lost that old, opportunistic Hong Kong spirit – see it, grab it, eat it.  The sight gives me not only inspiration, but a sudden appetite for poultry, which I satisfy with a chicken and green chilli sandwich from Pacific Coffee.