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

3-9 October 2004

Sun, 3 Oct
Stepping out of the Airport Express train and breathing in a lungful of pollen-free, mineral-rich, money-scented Hong Kong air, I wonder what I’ve missed while I’ve been away. 

First, it seems that
Spike, the magazine that dare not speak Emperor Group Chairman Albert Yeung’s name, has folded after a 10-month existence.  As well as being afraid of the rich and powerful, Spike’s editors were simply too nice to produce a gutsy publication – as I found out when they declined my review of High Degree of Atrocity on the grounds that it would be ‘cruel’ to say how bad the book was.  At least satire fans still have Not The South China Morning Post, which regards the labels ‘cruel’, ‘vicious’ and ‘tasteless’ as badges of honour.  Reading through NTSCMP, I learn that the youngest of the Braemar Hill murderers has been released.  Memories come back of a mid-1980s colonial society event.  It would be hard to imagine, I remarked to a fellow guest, that the authorities would mount this huge manhunt involving army helicopters and hundreds of Gurkhas if the two teenage victims had been Chinese from Mongkok rather than Island-side expats.  This went down like the proverbial goblet of chilled vomit.  My banishment from that moribund milieu began that day. 

I am glad to see that I am not alone in speaking the plain truth, however unpleasant it might be.  Taiwan’s Foreign Minister has spelt out to Singaporeans the inescapable fact that their country is a ‘
piece of snot’.  Even allowing for the fact that he was breaking it to them gently – wrong bodily excretion – such refreshing honesty makes a welcome change from the tiresome Asian tradition of diplomatic deference.  An alternative to both bluntness and flattery is, of course, irony – as employed by the Hong Kong Government in its video of the national anthem for TV stations to broadcast before the 6pm news.  To convince us to love the glorious motherland and its 23,000 years of continuous civilization, the footage could feature beautiful countryside, exquisite cultural artifacts, cheerful citizens at work and play, or simply massed ranks of beauties doing tai chi in the nude.  Instead, it shows Jiang Zemin’s favourite expensive vanity projects, leaving me in no doubt that it is a vicious satire of the sort Spike never managed to pull off.  The canny folk of the Big Lychee will watch scenes of astronaut Yang Liwei and the Olympic medallists, and they will think “that money could have been better spent on abalone/nude tai chi /school fees for Henan Province AIDS orphans” (tick one).

No-one knows I am back.  Shall I go into the office tomorrow?  The question answers itself – I am obviously too jet-lagged to think straight.

Mon, 4 Oct
A lazy morning in Perpetual Opulence Mansions, catching up with correspondence.  Among dozens of unanswered emails, I receive a ‘nice seeing you’ message from cousin John Quincy Hemlock in the US.  He poses a couple of questions.  Is George W Bush suffering from
Alzheimer’s?  And which strikes more fear in the heart of the American voter – a president whose English is bad, or one whose French is good?  I turn to a large pile of letters.  Opening envelopes one, two and three, I discover that the Government rates collector wants money, the electricity company wants money, and the fire insurance company wants money.  Suck as hard as they might, these leeches don’t come close to absorbing the inflow of investment income in envelopes four and five, notifying me of dividends from CNOOC and Manulife.  I am miles ahead.  In envelope six, an invitation to a symposium on corporate citizenship.  According to my diary, I will be free – but if I’m quick I should still be able to arrange to fill the day with root canals, colonic irrigation, Kenny G CDs and meals of baked beans and sausages at a British theme pub full of loud expat oafs in rugby shirts.  Envelope seven contains a brochure designed to look like a family photo album and intended to lure me into pushing my high-achieving teenage offspring into becoming clients of HSBC.  As a shareholder of the bank, I consider such grubby, tacky, shallow and exploitative marketing methods nothing short of brilliant.  Placing the material in the bin, I wish this nauseating promotion every success.

Tue, 5 Oct
The Pakistani security guard gives me a hearty ‘good morning’ as I stroll into the foyer of S-Meg Tower.  I point to his shotgun.  He smartly presents it, and I peer briefly down the barrel.  “When did you last clean this?” I ask.  “Yesterday evening, sah!” he responds.  I nod approvingly. “Very good, carry on,” I tell him with a smile.  I enter the elevator with a huge grin on my face.  It's good to be back.  Everyone else thinks so, too.  Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary, Stanley the Epsilon, Mr Chan the Deputy MD – even HR Manager Ms Leung Yuk-mei is relieved at the return of the company gwailo, the only person in the organization who can say ‘no’ to the Big Boss.  Opening the door to my office, I spare a thought for the poor, average Hong Kong office fodder, who come back from a two-week vacation to find a desk full of work.  Not me, of course.  I get a large pile of mooncakes.  Can there be any more convincing evidence that everyone loves me?
LIKE A lost traveller in the desert finding an oasis just as he is about to die of thirst, I pick up a copy of the South China Morning Post for the first time in ages and gorge myself on its dispassionate and informative reporting, its sharp and insightful analysis and its entertaining and witty comment.  Hapless porcupines tragically stuck in drains in Tsuen Wan, women brutally assaulted by wanton monkeys in Shatin, corpses laid out for the vultures in traditional ‘sky burials’ in Kowloon Tong – nothing escapes the newshounds of Quarry Bay.  The ‘National’ section, page after page after page of it, imparting praise for Li Peng’s engineering genius, and keeping us abreast of the death tolls from the mining disaster du jour and the weekly fireworks factory explosion.  And then there’s the all-seeing Edwin Ma, advising everyone born in the Year of the Goat that they will all, suddenly, for a 24-hour period starting at midnight last night, be “much more conscious than usual of the distinctions between things” – hence, we can anticipate, a sudden spurt in productivity among taxonomists born in 1943, 1955 and 1967.  Wiping the crumbs of my seventh mooncake from my lips, I can only wonder – how did I get by without this journalistic treasure for 15 days?
Wed, 6 Oct
Hell hath no fury like a Hongkonger whose safe deposit box suddenly becomes a compressed-and-dumped-on-a-scrap-heap deposit box.  These small metal cases do not contain mere items of value.  They store wealth and assets of a highly private and personal nature – pieces of paper, metal and carbon crystal – the existence of which is unknown to the Inland Revenue Department or the owner’s loving spouse and rapacious children.  And now a branch of DBS bank in Mei Foo has torn out and
trashed 83 of these boxes in the course of renovations.  At least, that’s what they want us to believe in our anguish.  DBS.  Development Bank of Singapore.  As the name suggests, the institution hails from Snot City.  Indeed, it is largely owned by Boogerville’s government.  Back in 2001, these clowns paid me HK$60 a share for Dao Heng Bank – double what it was worth – so their mucus-lump of a country could delude itself into thinking it was a player on the international financial stage.  For decades, Singapore’s proprietor Lee Kwan-yew has plundered his subjects’ wealth by diverting their savings into a provident fund that invests in state-owned losers – sunset industries and cosseted corporations, like Deposit Box Scrapper itself.  Could it be that the Lion City is now ransacking the Big Lychee’s private hoards in a desperate attempt to maintain its despotic regime, with its elaborate and costly security apparatus of public speaking permits, chewing gum detection devices and rattan canes?  No other explanation makes sense.  How despicable.
Thurs, 7 Oct
Pushing my way past Singaporean bandits scuttling away with Hong Kong widows’ gold and forex reserves, I take an early morning stroll around Chater Garden and ponder a vital question – is new legislator
Leung Kwok-hung an authentic genius?  As Hong Kong people’s favourite communist, Long Hair will bring new standards of economic illiteracy into the circus, actually making the demented policy proposals of the Government, the Democrats, the DAB and the Liberals look that much less idiotic by contrast.  Judging from his clenched fist and shouts of “death to fascist oppressor of the masses Tung Chee-hwa and his evil landlord henchmen,” during the swearing-in ceremony, he will introduce new levels of rhetorical grace into the Legislative Council, much to the relief of those of us who occasionally seek thrills and enlightenment in the public gallery.  Thanks to him, we can look forward to a refreshing new approach to sartorial style and deportment in the chamber, as he stumbles in late, tosses his cigarettes and can of beer on the table, pulls his sweaty T-shirt off and takes his seat with a satisfied burp.  Most of all, he will single-handedly rebut claims by our city’s detractors that we have no democracy or liberty – he will be living proof that Hong Kong remains the freest society in Asia.  Can anyone imagine a Long Hair being elected to the Singapore Parliament?  Indeed, can anyone imagine Long Hair being elected to anything, anywhere?  Except, of course, the Big Lychee.  Where wonders never cease.
AN EXCITED phone call from buxom Administrative Officer Winky Ip.  “The Legco Secretariat have just updated members’ on-line biographies,” she tells me.  “Could you take a quick look and see if it’s OK?”  I tear myself away from mongolianharlotsinheat.com, look through the list of legislators, click a name at random and find myself perusing what must be the briefest biography of the lot – a man with no family, no alma mater, no list of directorships, no lengthy record of public service on self-important advisory bodies, and no fax or phone.  But who can resist testing a link to the email address longhairlongmarch@yahoo.com.hk ?
Dear Long Hair,

Congratulations on your election.  Will buy you a beer next time I see you in the pub in Lan Kwai Fong.  Could you do everyone a favour sometime in the Legco building and jump James Tien, drag him into the men’s room and give him a talking to?  Nothing serious – just bust his jaw or break a few fingers.  Just to give us all a laugh.

All the best!
“Seems fine,” I tell Winky.  To be sure, I click on Philip Wong.  How many glasses of wine had he knocked back in the Legco bar when he thought up the email address az3286pw@netvigator.com ?
Dear Dr the Hon Wong JP, GBS

Some people think you’re a repulsive and obscene drunken moron and an embarrassment to Hong Kong who should be strung up from a lamppost.

I’m one of them.
Fri, 8 Oct
Breakfast at the Foreign Correspondents Club with Winky, who gives me a slight look of disgust as I dollop my third spoonful of chili sauce onto my fried noodles.  She refuses to discuss our Chief Executive’s latest public relations blunder – the
last-minute cancellation of a press conference to unveil the new Health Minister.  Was Tung Chee-hwa’s usual procrastination at fault, like last time?  Did Beijing baulk at approving tofu-for-brains’s choice because the unfortunate wretch concerned, York Chow, still has an Australian passport?  Or are our masters in the Central People’s Government simply making Tung look foolish for amusement, out of exasperation with his crop-haired ineptness?  “I had nothing to do with it,” the tight-lipped, voluptuous civil servant maintains. 

It’s just as well – media folk don’t like being turned away.  I remind Winky of the launch in 1986 of a dazzling new watering hole that was intended to pioneer the transformation of a seedy neighbourhood into an up-market bar district.  Amid great excitement, the owners invited the cream of Hong Kong journalism to the all-you-can-drink-free opening.  Eager and thirsty, they came.  And angry and thirsty, they immediately departed, barred from entry for failing to comply with the dress code.  Thus Joe Bananas in Wanchai began life with its reputation permanently besmirched by scorned reporters’ scathing reviews.  And it never recovered.  Far from becoming the classy place its owners envisaged, it could attract only the dregs of expat Hong Kong’s lower orders – traders with loud cockney accents and overweight white women in heat.  All for a modicum of common sense with press relations, it became a pit of swarthy hermaphrodite hookers and wet T-shirt contests.  “Just like the Tung administration,” I tell Winky as she gets up and leaves, muttering something about how jetlagged I must be.