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

4-10 April 2004

Tue, 6 April
As the sun rises over Hong Kong’s central business district, wild American friend Odell and I sit in Pacific Coffee in IFC Mall sipping our banana-and-organic-cinnamon yoghurts.  The ex-Mormon looks up from the South China Morning Post.  “The Central Government distrusts the Hong Kong community, apparently,” he announces.  I nod, having heard it on the radio.  Raymond ‘dog biscuits’ Wu, one of the ‘red-mouthed parrots’ who faithfully recite the party line, had said it.  Odell looks exasperated.  “Hey,” he mutters to an invisible communist official, “you asked for it, you got it.  Assholes.”  He has a point.  The British offered to carry on
running the Big Lychee after 1997.  Whose fault is it if Beijing can’t handle the place?  To the doomsayers, the National People’s Congress’s interpretation of the Basic Law spells the end of civilization.  I look forward to seeing if the stock market agrees when it opens in a few minutes, or whether it is more interested in the news that the US economy created 308,000 jobs in March.  After all, how can anyone seriously doubt that Hong Kong still enjoys a high degree of autonomy when our deranged government is free to invite the loathsome-sounding united buddy bears to town?
Reading the news over a dinner of sinigang thoughtfully concocted by the Filipino elves, I see that, as I suspected, the markets ignored the NPC’s anticlimactic interpretation of the Basic Law and rose a nice 1.2 percent.  The reasons seem plain enough.  All must be well in the world if “2007” means 2007.  And what investor could fail to have his spirits lifted by the enchanting photo of the only Hongkonger on the NPC Standing Committee – the charismatic Tsang Hin-chee, arriving at the Great Hall of the People with his usual cheery smile and kindly, avuncular demeanour?

Wed, 7 April
A hectic morning, with the Big Boss backing out at the last minute from a series of interviews with representatives of decadent Western liberal media.  His normal fondness for their attention evaporated when it occurred to him that they wanted to ask potentially embarrassing questions about the Basic Law interpretation, the fate of ‘one country-two systems’, Hong Kong’s autonomy and all the rest.  As a sop to the correspondents, I am told to stand in.  They are not happy.  No-one has ever heard of Hemlock the Company Gwailo, so his most scintillating and profound thoughts are worthless.  At a pinch, I could be a ‘well placed source’, but their editors back home like quotes with names attached.   After apologizing and explaining our Chairman’s sudden need to be at the bedside of an ailing 92-year old aunt, I find myself struggling through the same questions.
Hack Doesn’t this mean ultimately that Hong Kong really has no rule of law?  All those Basic Law guarantees can be changed in meaning by the NPC whenever it wants, and the NPC is simply a poodle of the Communist Party…
Me [interrupting] …which is above the law – well, yes, but I think that was always the case.  Purists – idealists – like Martin Lee or many westerners will obviously find this disappointing.  You could get quite depressed, I suppose.  But, um… I think the business community has always been quite realistic about this.
Hack But without rule of law, who will invest here?
Me Well, judging by the markets yesterday and so far today, no-one seriously imagines that there is no rule of law.  They’re not going to interpret the BL every week.  This was to solve a political problem – or something perceived as a problem in Beijing. 
Hack Yes, but how more often does it need to happen before it undermines business confidence?
Me I think anyone doing business here works on the assumption that Beijing will not damage the operating environment – otherwise they’d go elsewhere. 
Hack So what happened to Hong Kong’s ‘high degree of autonomy’?
Me [taking deep breath]  Well, it’s still there – our tax, trade, regulatory environments, our freedom of speech, the press, travel, worship, and so on – all independent.
Hack But what about democracy?
Me [leaning closer conspiratorially]  Look, between you and me, if you ask most of the younger local elite behind closed doors, they’ll tell you it’s crazy that this place isn’t a democracy yet.  The only people dead against it are the cartels and old-style patriots.  They’re clinging to their old privileges, but they’re history – sunset industries, toadies of Jiang Zemin.  Public pressure isn’t going to go away, and Tung has been completely humiliated.   It’ll happen… [looking at watch]  Oh good heavens!  Is that the time?  I’m so sorry, I've really got to rush to another meeting.  Great talking to you!

Thurs, 8 April
As I mentally prepare myself for the rigours of a four-day weekend with nothing much to do, I see joy and light everywhere I look.  Tung Chee-hwa has a golden opportunity to go down in history as the man who led his people from the political wilderness to the democratic promised land, says his old advisor
Paul Yip.  All the crop-haired one has to do is faithfully represent Hong Kong’s demands for reform to the NPC to get the new legal process started.  Before you can say ‘CEPA’, tofu-for-brains becomes the people’s hero.  Indeed – and a choir of heavenly pigs will soar gracefully among the skyscrapers of Central singing his praises.  Back on planet Earth, Hong Kong University has fallen into line with my forecast for above-6 percent GDP growth for Asia’s World City this year.   Even better, unemployment among the unskilled will remain high, increasing the possibility that starvation and disease will carry away our spotty juvenile delinquents, surplus construction workers and other social burdens, the way nature intended.  Also perhaps in line with nature’s intentions – frequent ejaculation may save men from prostate cancer, according to scientists.  I will show this report to the Filipino elves next time they complain about having to clean the stains off my bedroom ceiling.  Is there anything those two don’t complain about?  This morning, I point out to them how ironic it is that Hong Kong taxpayers cannot elect their own government, but the Filipinos who do our ironing and washing can.  This prompts snorts of derision.  Even though they refused to register as overseas voters a month or two back, the local Philippine consulate is begging them to cast their ballots next month anyway.  Consular staff will sell their votes to candidates back home, they maintain.  I am about to say “I find that hard to believe” when it occurs to me that I don’t.  CH Tung will be mentioned in the same breath as John Locke and Thomas Jefferson before the Philippines is half as clean as my dishes, or even my ceiling.
Sat, 10 April
The day after Good Friday – Even-Better Saturday.  Gliding up the hill after burning off 1,000 calories at the gym, it dawns on me that I could use the Mid-Levels Escalator as a giant treadmill, if only everyone else got off.  Like the young man in front of me wearing a white sports jacket, which reads…
University of Hong Kong
Ricci Hall
Where boys become men
Mercifully, we are spared the details.

Back at Perpetual Opulence Mansions, I catch up on emails.  Identical messages from the North Point chapter of the John Birch Society and the Yuen Long Posse Comitatus warn that “The United Buddy Bears now being unloaded in Victoria Park are part of a one-world government conspiracy organized by the Vatican and Jewish bankers.”  Complex details follow, involving Jesuits, multinationals, a plan to implant special microchips into the homeless, Yale’s Skull and Bones society, the Bilderberg Group and Nostradamus.  Personally, I think these bears are Nazis, given their
Germanic origins and the Hitlerian salute.  An email from an exiled Hong Kong dissident in Toronto asks me about the NPC’s interpretation of the Basic Law.  “Didn’t HK and Macau Affairs Office boss Lu Ping assure us in the mid-90s that Legco electoral reform was entirely an internal matter for Hong Kong?”.  Yes, he did.  Poor old Lulu – maybe he was drunk.  Or out of context.  “Still,” adds the Torontan on a hopeful note, “Beijing officials are talking to democrats for the first time.  Even Szeto Wah was invited to a forum.  Tung wouldn’t be seen dead near Szeto.”  True.  Can anyone with an ounce of humanity fail to feel desperately sorry for poor old CH?  How must it feel to have worse PR skills than Beijing?