Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
3-9 August 2003
Mon, 4 Aug
Expecting jetlag and the Big Boss’s absence, I had planned to hit the ground snoozing after my vacation.   But it is not to be.  The Hemlock Timezone Beater ® system – my meticulously researched jetlag cure based on the intelligent misuse of alcohol – has worked perfectly.  And the Big Boss is inconsiderately in town, banging the table with rage during the morning meeting in infantile frustration at apparently being passed over during the search for a new Financial Secretary.  I share his disappointment.  He is no less qualified than the nice-but-dim Henry “the Horse” Tang, whose smartest move in life, like the Big Boss’s, was choosing to gestate in a womb impregnated by a rich man.  Furthermore, the Chairman of S-Meg Holdings would introduce some decisiveness and plain belligerence to the senior tier of our noble Government – badly needed now the resplendent demi-goddess Regina is in seclusion, awaiting
her calling to the number-one job in 2007.
What better example of this official spinelessness than the recent decision to delay a key post-SARS clean-up measure and offer public housing tenants two months in which to dispose of their pets?  I was looking forward to this.  It would make magnificent TV – the drama of burly uniformed men running through the malodorous, dimly lit corridors of public housing blocks, kicking down doors, bursting into apartments and shooting hamsters; the heart-wrenching pathos of cowering parents assuring their traumatised children that cuddly little Mei-mei, now a smear of raspberry and fur splattered across a Hello Kitty wall calendar, is “just sleeping”.  Will we ever actually enjoy this exciting and moving entertainment?  With soccer gambling now legal, the lower orders will quite possibly descend into financial ruin in the next eight weeks, and pets in public housing will starve to death or be put to desperate culinary uses by their impoverished owners.  Even the simplest pleasures are denied us these days.

Tue, 5 Aug
The strange scouring sound that has permeated Central in recent weeks has finally ended.  After scraping the deepest recesses of the barrel, our valiant and visionary Chief Executive has finally found a new Secretary for Security.  Rising from humble origins stamping passports, and already cursed with a silly Victorian name, poor Ambrose Lee is being dragged screaming and kicking from the apparently dispensable Independent Commission Against Corruption – after a mere year – into Regina Ip’s old office, where he and his descendents for a hundred generations will be indelibly tarnished with the mark of Tung.  What did he do to deserve it?  The hidden hand of fate is revealed in the anagrams: “Me, be a loser?”, “Obese lamer” (he’s currently slim, but eating disorders
go with the job) and, perhaps more encouragingly, “Release mob”.  The last great Ambrose was surely Bierce, author of the classic Devil’s Dictionary.  This is unlikely to change. 

On the subject of cruel and unusual punishment, I am horrified to learn that the teenager whose Internet hoax caused panic buying during the SARS outbreak has been
sentenced to 12 months’ supervision by social workers. I would have thought 12 minutes in the company of these tiresome, interfering busybodies would be more than adequate for retributive, deterrent, or other punitive purposes.  Will inform Amnesty International.  We live under a vicious tyranny.

Wed, 6 Aug

Academic failures will rain from the sky today, when the HKCEE exam results are released and hordes of under-achieving high school students resort to suicide.  I will stay indoors, though it should be safe enough for pedestrians in the neighbourhood around Perpetual Opulence Mansions, where residents send their brats to school overseas to indulge in finger painting and basket weaving.  In contrast, the robust and unambiguous Hong Kong educational system sorts sheep from goats decisively.  Either you can memorise that textbook on critical thinking and reproduce it word-for-word in the exam, in which case we eventually gain another accountant or doctor, or you can’t, in which case 7-Eleven gains a new store clerk – or one less customer should you opt for self-defenestration.
Thurs, 7 Aug
The Big Boss is off to Jakarta, unfazed by the Islamic militants (presumably) who blew up the Marriott yesterday, claiming 16 lives.  I recall how, as a small child collecting stamps, I found Indonesia puzzling.  Courtesy of their philatelic designs, other Asian countries had distinct images in my mind.  Japan had chrysanthemums and bullet trains, China had steelworks and rockets, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines had the good sense to use English.  But Indonesia lacked character – nothing but apparently bad spelling and a man in a sort of fez. The last time I visited Jakarta, they were cleaning up the mess after an anti-Chinese pogrom – as they would have been not long before I first set eyes on Sukarno on a stamp.  Elsewhere, people had been displaying severed heads, soldiers had been killing civilians, and mayhem came to Timor, Aceh and Irian Jaya in more flavours than in an
es teler fruit punch.  Too much character to cram onto a small square of gummed paper.  Faithful to the traditional quality of Indonesian law enforcement, the police artist has rendered what appears to be a well-groomed Cro-magnon as an aid to catching the culprits behind the Marriott bomb.

Fri, 8 Aug
Switching on the radio first thing, I am jarred awake by the grating, whiney accent of a working-class Englishman.  Eventually, the dropped consonants and tortured vowels come to an end. “David Beckham,” intones the RTHK3 news presenter.  So that’s what he sounds like!  Interesting – I had imagined a deeper voice and at least slightly more up-market elocution, in keeping with the quasi-sophistication of the clothes and hairstyles.  Would the hormones of Hong Kong’s teenage girls flood like the Yangtze in summer over this man if the ugliness of his speech were apparent to the Cantonese ear?  Perhaps basketball player Yao Ming, also currently in town, speaks charmless Mandarin, but given his grotesque, 7’ 6” physique, he is presumably not a sex symbol.  And, unlike Beckham, he might actually have a glimmer of intelligence – his distressingly mournful demeanour suggests slow awareness of his status as a circus freak, the seeds of resentment at being bred and reared as a genetic abnormality for the glory of the Motherland.

But I bet he has someone to make his vast bed.  I, on the other hand, confront disrepair at Perpetual Opulence Mansions.  The two Filipino elves have abandoned me, one returning home to see a sick parent, the other travelling with her full-time employers, leaving me without domestic help for nearly two weeks. Two weeks!  Washing up will accumulate in the kitchen.  Used socks will breed in the laundry basket.  The contents of the fruit bowl, with no-one to peel, cut and otherwise prepare the life-enhancing food, will spoil and attract loathsome, crawling invertebrates.  The supply of ironed shirts will dwindle.  Mercifully, Hong Kong has no shortage of women happy to perform most household chores in exchange for a few hours’ access to my body, and, in desperate times like this, I am a shameless whore – what choice do I have?