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

5-11 September 2004

Mon, 6 Sept
Gliding down the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning, Hong Kong’s wealth-creating class chatters about value for money in the market for domestic servants.  The
latest news is that the number of Filipinos working as maids in Hong Kong has been declining, as Indonesians increase their market share.  The latter, we all agree, are mainly popular among the lower orders, as they cheerfully work for just half the normal salary with only one day off a month, and they’ll sleep in the kitchen.  Cheerfully, that is, until one day they snap and throw the baby out of the window.  More usually, Indonesian amahs rebel against their poor conditions in more subtle ways, exerting mystical influence over their employers by casting spells on the family – typically by putting their menstrual blood in the cooking.  In the Mid-Levels we know false economy when we see it, so we still insist on Filipino domestic servants. 

A middle-aged lady next to me points out that Filipinas cost more and demand paid holidays and proper bedrooms – or they will talk to their lawyers.  “But that’s the price of quality,” she tells me.  “They can speak English and do the children’s homework.”  And, I remind her, surf the Internet for recipes and change light bulbs and plugs without loss of life.  With a Filipino helper, the most worrying behaviour will be adoration of a glow-in-the-dark statue of the Virgin Mary, while her Indonesian counterpart will be collecting the family’s fingernail clippings in little cloth bags for use in nocturnal incubus-discouragement rituals.  Even so, I say, Malay-speaking girls with disturbing lipstick and centre-parted bobbed hair are an increasingly common sight here in our middle-class Arcadia.  “Yes,” she confirms, “second amahs.”  Hired solely to accompany frail, elderly grandparents – like seeing-eye dogs, except they understand a wider range of commands and cost less to feed.  What a happy arrangement!  The Southeast Asian women’s dependents back home receive remittances beyond their wildest dreams, while Hong Kong’s industrious bourgeoisie can attend to the important things in life, safe in the knowledge that their children and parents are well cared for.  Does life get any better than in the Mid-Levels?
It is proving to be a quiet day in the office, so I decide to partake of a little lunchtime relaxation.  With Vaughan Williams’ Rhosymedre Prelude playing on the PC, I close the door, pull my pipe out of its secret hiding place and smoke a little narcotic ‘foreign mud’.  I have procured a very special strain of the drug.  Astronautical mutagenic breeding technology has been employed to alter the germ plasm of the poppy seeds.  After the satellite returns to earth, the high-yielding and most immunized seeds are selected and planted.  The result is a quality of opium so fine that even the staff on the news desk at People’s Daily seem unable to resist it, judging by their latest, almost Coleridgian outpourings.
Tue, 7 Sept
Along with everyone else on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning, I am accosted by Rita Fan as I cross the road in Soho.  Trained as a psychologist, she can no doubt tell who will vote for her, especially if we are kind enough to give her a little hint.  “Good morning, you witch,” I say with a broad smile as she greets me and offers a leaflet outlining her platform.  She is the human face of despotism.  The velvet glove covering the iron claw that grips the throat of Hong Kong’s middle class, demanding taxes, obeisance to cartels and an end to irritating demands to elect a Chief Executive who is not a complete cretin.  “Once mature political parties emerge in Hong Kong,” she tells us, “the Chief Executive can be returned by universal suffrage.”  A blatant Catch 22 – only misfits, dullards, shoeshiners, the mentally diseased and treacherous slime like James Tien will go near a political party until there is serious public office to run for.  A conservatively dressed man in his 50s – probably an actuary – tells this wolf in sheep’s clothing that he will vote for her on Sunday.  As we glide down towards Central, I consider hurling him over the side of the walkway over Hollywood Road, onto the roof of a double-decker bus that would whisk him away to North Point or some other benighted district, screaming in terror.  Or maybe borrowing a broom from one of the curvaceous Nepalese cleaners, beating him unconscious and stuffing him into a recycling bin.  Fortunately for him, I am running late.
Wed, 8 Sep
More than just another group of Mainland tourists plodding around town looking vacant, China’s gold medal winners have captured the hearts of Hong Kong people.  Who will want to vote for unpatriotic troublemaking democrats after seeing the Olympic heroes last night at the Hong Kong Stadium majestically singing karaoke while leotard–clad six-year-old girls in lipstick pranced in the background?  And to emphasize the glorious motherland’s benevolence, there are reports that Dongguan officials are about to announce the early release of Democratic Party candidate Alex Ho.  That was presumably written into the script at the time his politically driven arrest and sentencing were planned, though the whole clumsy machination is in danger of becoming an embarrassment.  Which bring us to the root cause of the Big Lychee’s tribulations.  Tantalising shreds of evidence suggest that the power struggle between Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin is entering a new phase.  The rival camps’ publications are airbrushing people out of photos and leaking conflicting reports.  Yesterday, the ogre Jiang was planning to
stand down as Chairman of the Central Military Commission.  Today, he isn’t.  The South China Morning Post bizarrely runs yesterday’s version on page 7, as though it is mere routine and of no concern to Hong Kong.  Aren’t they aware that Jiang’s departure could also be Tung Chee-hwa’s?  Don’t they know that many of our top officials and pro-Beijing tycoons are beholden to Jiang, and would have to join the leotard–clad six-year-old girls and perform some intricate footwork if Hu suddenly took full power?  Robert Kuok in a tutu and pink lipstick?  I think I prefer keeping the egotistical Jiang – ‘Three Represents’, psychopathic Hong Kong policy and all.
Thurs, 9 Sept
Congee and noodles for breakfast at the Foreign Correspondents Club with Ms Ip, the Hong Kong Government’s best-formed and best-
informed Administrative Officer.  “So, will Winky be meeting Minky?” I ask.  Putting down the newspaper, I show her my blackened fingers.  “Inky!”  Looking at her unsmiling, slightly exasperated face and into her cold, weary eyes, I can tell that deep down she finds me extremely funny.  Minky Worden – once an assistant to Democratic Party leader and holy blissful martyr Martin Lee – unveils New York-based Human Rights Watch’s report on the Big Lychee’s election.  She denies it is an attempt to influence voting, and says her organization engages with our officials – if not the one sitting opposite me stirring peanuts into her juk.  I am impressed that they can issue such a report before campaigning finishes and votes are counted.  It reminds me of Beijing’s uncanny ability to announce annual GDP growth in late December.  “Who funds these self-appointed busybodies?” asks Winky.  I have to think about it for a few seconds.  “George Soros, I think – people like that.  On their website they file Hong Kong under ‘China and Tibet’.”
To the accompaniment of unladylike congee-slurping, I flick through the other newspapers and find to my delight that Mainland officials are also not trying to sway our election.  They have come a long way in recent years to make themselves more open to the media, and it is heartening to see the Dongguan police go to all the trouble to hold a press conference simply to remind us that Democrat Alex Ho is a Democrat and in prison, and to stress how it was pure coincidence that this Democrat happened to be arrested on this particular trip to the Mainland, out of all the hundreds he – this Democrat – has made.  The Gong An even furnish the press with charming photographs.  One, taken in the hotel room at the time of arrest, reveals that Ho is the sort of unfeeling lowlife who fornicates with his spectacles on.  Another shows Ho enjoying the shark’s fin soup, sauna, cable TV and other amenities at the re-education-through-labour camp.  The SCMP, after dutifully purveying the official version of the story for three weeks, suddenly suffers a fit of cynicism and describes the news event as “obviously political and entirely discriminatory.  In other words … smear tactics.”  What has driven the paper to make this slander against Dongguan’s finest, which will surely hurt the feelings of the entire Chinese people?  I can only conclude that it is empathy on the part of media folk who, rumour has it, mumble excuses about saving time and leave their fetid socks and oily, dandruff-flecked glasses on when they have sex.
Fri, 10 Sep
Sitting outside the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee, ex-Mormon friend Odell sips his mango, cinnamon and jojoba yoghurt.  “Meet Edsel,” he says, nodding towards a companion – a very clean-cut young man in a short-sleeved white shirt, conservative tie and a black badge identifying him as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  He has a terrifying grin.  “Been in Hong Kong long?” he asks.  Quite a while, I tell him.  He looks at me enthusiastically.  “Were you here for the Passover?” he asks.  I try not to look too bewildered.  Around Easter?  Yes, I would have been here.  “No,” he says through his manic smile.  “I mean 1997.”  Ah –
that visitation of the angel of death.  Sensing the imminent arrival of Jesus, I change the subject and ask Odell how he came to obtain a small bruise below his eye.  Did his Thai wife Mee see fit to administer corporal punishment for some reason?  “No, no,” he says, smiling.  “I beat up a Shaolin monk.”  Excellent!  If I ever said ‘cool!’, this would be the time.  “Yeah, I can’t stand them,” he continues.  “All that leaping in the air and kicking bricks.”  I nod approvingly.  Shaolin kung fu – the intellectual lucidity of the Falun Gong combined with the martial splendor of professional wrestling, packaged to appeal to dimwitted teenage boys who play computer games and worry about penis size.  Coming soon, as if the fragrant harbour hasn’t prostituted itself enough to Disney, the trade fair industry, Mainland officials salivating at the prospect of ‘partnership’ and ‘cooperation’, and all the other plagues.  We should have smeared lamb’s blood on our doors. 

As Odell asks the beaming Edsel for the latest news from Utah, I flick through the paper.  Vote on Sunday, we are reminded.  I suppose I will.  Rita Fan has dismissed Executive Councillor CY Leung as unsuitable for the post of Chief Executive after the crop-haired one is sent off to the taxidermist’s.  Leung, the sinister half-Rumanian who gardens at night, once the smug favourite, has learnt the hard way the difference between biding your time and letting it slip past.  Meanwhile, a man in a pro-Communist Party T-shirt
hits a Democratic Party candidate in Sheung Shui and is put in a psychiatric centre – presumably because of the shirt.
Gavin Coates