Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat

5-11 January 2003
Sun, 5 Jan
Ex-Mormon Odell wins the "most ludicrous excuse for poor punctuality" award when he turns up late for lunch at the Foreign Correspondents Club. "I met this girl last night," he explains. "She was deaf and dumb, and we went back to her place, and I set her alarm clock so I'd wake up at 9, but the alarm clock doesn't ring – it just has flashing lights because she's deaf.  So I overslept."  Resist asking him what story he has concocted for his wife.  As if the quirks of household appliances for the hearing-impaired are not enough, he also managed to flag down – as he often does – the psychopath taxi driver from Hell, with whom he says he almost came to blows.  "He kept asking me if he was going the right way! Three times!"  I have never had a problem with a single Hong Kong taxi driver.  And now, yet again, I must give these unsung heroes of Hong Kong's roads extra large tips for a while, to reassure them that not every fare with a white face is going to be the psychopath passenger from Hell, to atone for those who are, and to generally restore the karma of the taxi universe to its usual harmonic equilibrium.
Satisfied that I am a regular church-goer, gullible local bible-bashers have given me a new email address – hemlock@jesusloveshongkong.net   Not entirely sure what I will use it for.
Tue, 7 Jan
What a relief.  The three lower torsos, three right legs, two thighs and single left foot found in a landfill last weekend are not unusual acquaintance A-Hing’s leftovers after getting his teeth into some Jehovah’s Witnesses in between dog-poisoning missions. Nor are they the aftermath of a series of exceptionally unfortunate altercations between Odell and the malicious and obstructive taxi drivers he somehow attracts.  HK University medics simply
mislaid them when moving offices.  Who among us has not lost some cutlery, small items of clothing or an unobtrusive pet like a hamster or goldfish when moving house?  It could happen to anyone.
Seven million people wait with bated breath ahead of our fearless Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa’s policy address tomorrow.  Will the truth ever be told about the bits that were dropped from the early drafts of the speech?  The glorious plan to create 10,000 jobs by hiring destitute Nepalese to trim all lawns in parks and stadiums with nail clippers, daily.  The visionary scheme to give free land and HK$1 billion in subsidies for a Hello Kitty schoolbag factory to relocate here from the Mainland.  The groundbreaking proposal to buy all empty flats from developers at 1997 prices and blow them up to revive the sacred property market.  The dynamic, proactive, market-enabling strategy of turning Hong Kong into a stuffed animal hub by building subsidized workshops and luxury housing for taxidermists.  It was lucrative while it lasted.  A billionaire's son or a large mouse got CH alone.  They sat close to him.  Touched his elbow softly but reassuringly.  They whispered delicately in his ear words that aroused his passions.  “Jobs.”  “Hi-tech.”  They looked him in the eye.  “CH.  We can do it.  Together – we can create jobs.  And hi-tech.  And hubs.  Lots of hubs.”  They offered him a Kleenex to mop up the dribble pouring from his lips.  And they embraced him and softly murmured: “All it will take is…” And they named it.  The last large piece of flat land in the whole of Hong Kong Island.  A large chunk of Lantau plus HK$20 billion.  But it seems those days are over.  Big white-elephant projects are out.  Small ones are in.  This is progress.
That's a large chunk of Lantau, HK$20 billion, plus royalties – and a big share of any profit, actually. Thank you.
Wed, 8 Jan
Why are people so hard to please in this town?  When inflation was 10%, they complained.  Now they get depressed because prices are falling.  When it was impossible for most people to afford a home, they complained.  Now they lament lower property prices.  When the Chief Executive answered questions from callers on the radio about his policy speech and proved inarticulate, evasive and lacking any grasp of policy, they complained.  Now he is giving the job of attending tomorrow’s phone-ins to people who might – conceivably – have half a clue,
they whine about him snubbing the public.  He is doing us a favour.  He doesn't have to listen to people telling him to resign.  In return, we are spared his vacuous, meandering blather.  A good deal.

Mid-afternoon. Hong Kong falls silent. The city comes to a standstill for the Chief Executive’s policy address.  Huddled transfixed around televisions in shopping malls, or standing motionless in the street with small radios clasped to their ears, citizens listen reverently to the profound and wise thoughts of their determined and intrepid leader. He will take a 10% pay cut, and the rest of the public sector will make itself less of a burden by a microscopic amount in a few years' time.  Meanwhile, to keep the public-sector scum nice and fat, the rest of us will have to pay more tax.  The good news, not spelt out in the speech, is that after having paid a few billion taxpayers' dollars for another couple of exhibition halls, the Government will have overcome its bizarre conference-centre fetish. By the socialist standards of Hong Kong's Government, this is progress.  Spend the evening drinking.
Thurs, 9 Jan
Unemployment will fall by 8.3% at a stroke today, according to the
South China Morning Post's all-seeing horoscope writer, Edwin Ma, who tells the twelth of the population born in the Year of the Tiger: "If you have been unemployed for a while, today should bring news of a job offer."  Good news for at least one (in terms of probability) of the 13 editorial staff laid off by the SCMP yesterday – depending, of course, on what sage Ma means by "a while".

Our Chief Executive's policy speech seems to have been generally
well-received by the chattering classes.  Will email my congratulations to him.
Fri, 10 Jan
“As the critics call for his resignation, Tung calls for unity,” says the
SCMP headline tucked away at the bottom of page 1.  Does anyone have the heart to tell him that there is unity – everyone wants him to go?  I would have thought a senior legislator standing in the chamber telling the Chief Executive to stand down would sell newspapers and be the lead story.  The Post, however, thinks a huge picture of a happy peasant woman, like something from People’s Daily in the early 1970s, will brighten up our lives.
My rehearsal for retirement is rudely interrupted by a call from Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary asking me to represent the Big Boss, still in hospital after the murder attempt by his vicious wife  I have to receive a delegation of young entrepreneurs from North Korea on a tour of Hong Kong.  The conversation over dim sum in the penthouse at S-Meg Tower is oblique. I ask the toothsome but flat-chested girl in charge about the North Korean business environment in 2003. “We seek to glorify this year of President Kim Il Sung's 91st birthday as a year of a new surge in the building of a powerful nation,” she declares. I nod politely.  My preferred method for dealing with North Korea is for the US and China to jointly level its military facilities through aerial bombardment or whatever it takes, and for China to manage the dump under a UN mandate for a decade or two until it feels grown-up enough to handle a united Korea. Ever the diplomat, I keep this to myself. Bidding farewell to the young entrepreneurs, I see that Ms Fang is proudly sporting a little badge featuring the head and shoulders of Kim Jong-Il, noted Pyongyang movie buff and exponent of the “Juche” theory of hairstyling.  Must look on the bright side.  They could be Scientologists.