Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
6-12 April 2003
Sun, 6 Apr
A call from Administrative Officer Winky Ip, working overtime at Central Government Offices.  The word is that officials have drawn up a plan to put Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung in charge of the Government if our decisive and fearless Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa succumbs to SARS. “We’re all lighting joss sticks and praying for his health,” she says.  The thought of the ageing and slightly dotty spinster taking the reins is a bit disturbing. “Do you think Beijing is behind this,” I ask her, “pre-empting a power grab by running dog Donald Tsang in the event of leadership decapitation?”  She’s unsure.  Hong Kong is just a cough away… from what? A decline in political judgement?  An increase in vacillation and compromise?   No, I reassure Winky, it is hard to see how she of the frilly lace collars and sensible shoes would be any worse than the crop-haired one.  Put the joss sticks away.
Mon, 7 Apr
An odious parasite “consultant” – a semi-suave Brit with pink shirt, matching tie and handkerchief and elegant charcoal grey suit – oozes his way past the receptionist on the top floor of S-Meg Tower, anticipating potentially lucrative face time with a gullible Big Boss. But an opportunity to shoe-shine Tung Chee-hwa has suddenly presented itself, and the great tycoon tells the nearest unfortunate – in this case the company gwailo – to handle the visitor.  The bemused look on the consultant’s face on seeing a fellow white man in this feng-shui-ridden HQ is a delight to behold.  Jasmine is poured and an appropriately slimy snack appears, complete with hard-to-use silver pointed chopsticks.  The consultant describes his company’s services – some sort of PR/self-help voodoo – and resorts to shameless name-dropping, even being presumptuous enough to mention the Big Boss by his first name.  Pretending to listen avidly, I mentally recite
Arabic insults until he finishes his spiel.  “So I’m sure our services would be of great benefit to the Big Boss and S-Meg,” he says as I escort him to the lift.  “Oh undoubtedly,” I say with a huge, enthusiastic smile.  “I’ll give our Chairman a full briefing on it. Thank you so much for coming – it was fascinating.  Goodbye…”  the lift door closes  “…you syphilitic son of a she-camel.”

Tue, 8 Apr
It's not as if no-one needs public relations advice. The Chinese Government kills dozens, hospitalizes hundreds, and scares millions worldwide through
paranoid handling of the SARS outbreak.  Beijing officials could have won a Nobel Prize for identifying a new virus, but felt more at home sweeping it under the carpet, leading the World Health Organization’s normally mild-mannered boss Gro Harlem Brundtland to denounce them as “a cabal of evil, self-centred, despicable commie dirtbags with no respect for human life.”  Then there's George Galloway, a member of the UK Parliament who has nailed his colours to the mast of Saddam Hussein.  He is being kicked out of the Labour Party, and, according to trouble-makers who are probably making up nasty stories about him, diverts charity funds for Iraqi children to his travel expenses.  Here in Hong Kong, Charles Lee claims that applying high standards to the stock exchange's listing mechanism is against national (spelt h-i-s) interests.  His arguments are so stupid that Tung Chee-hwa will probably listen to them.   The only skilled operator these days is
Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, Saddam Hussein's engaging Information Minister, who surely has a future in talk radio.  Who cannot be impressed by his tenacious insistence that Baghdad Airport – or just Baghdad, pure and simple – is safely in Iraqi hands, even as USAF
C-130s and C-17s are touching down with emergency supplies of mint choc chip ice cream for the Marines?  A truly impressive performer of the satanic PR arts.
Sneak in to Tung Chee-hwa’s SARS press conference.  Fearful that Hongkongers are now calming down, and the crisis will fizzle out in a month or two, our visionary Chief Executive sees a need to stir up more panic, thus keeping our city in the news, and giving himself the impression he is needed. “We will … adopt proper measures to get the economy going again.”  God help us.  Did Leslie Cheung see an advance copy of these comments, by any chance?

Wed, 9 April
Walk into Central at ground level rather than use the Mid-Levels Escalator, in order to stamp
SARS-infested cockroaches to death as they leap at me on the sidewalk. The best thing about this plague is that it might just break the back of our wretched tourism industry – surely the most tiresome sector of our
economy.  It is a beautiful thought.  No more tacky hotel lobbies infested by pompous European concierges.  No more Taiwanese stuffing their faces with ketchup-laden oysters at gross buffets.  No more handbag and shoe shops catering to three simpering Japanese office ladies a day. No more fat Americans trying to get served in the Captain’s Bar wearing shirts and shorts that look like someone has vomited a stomach full of small, half-digested palm trees all over them.  No more sprawling conference centres attracting the dull and negligible from across the Pacific Rim to three-day marathons entitled “Paradigms of Excellence: Sustainable Development and the Logistics Industry”.  A flicker of nostalgia!  Whatever happened to the Pacific Rim?
As Baghdadis dance in the street and beat images of Saddam with their shoes, I write a gloating email to my trendy liberal sister, rubbing her diamond-encrusted nose in it for marching against war in Iraq a few weeks back.  “Why do left-wingers support fascists?” I taunt.  “Is it ‘the enemy of Bush is my friend’ or what?”  Iraqi joy contrasts with the self-indulgent misery of Hongkongers.  During a quick visit to the circus, I hear Margaret Ng, the usually demure – not to say mind-numbing – legal representative, describe Lexus-owning Financial Secretary Antony Leung as an “imbecile”.  Twice.  And no rebuke for unparliamentary language.  Perhaps the way she phrased it – in the form of a question – provided a rhetorical loophole.    Or maybe the interpreters watered it down in Cantonese.  Or maybe everyone simply considered it a fact, and beyond question.

Thurs, 10 Apr
Shenzhen health authorities kill an American English teacher in their
latest attempt to cover up their SARS outbreak.  The WHO gives full approval, apparently.  At the other end of the public-awareness activities scale, plans are being hatched to mobilize the whole of Hong Kong for a massive Easter weekend clean-up. Leading the charge will be the indomitable Betty Tung, who is already busy extracting donations from the great and the good, and will be handing out brooms and kicking slackers’ rears – not least CH's, perhaps – on 19-20 April.

Fri, 11 Apr
More plague panic, as Malaysia bars entry to people with Hong Kong travel documents, though those of us with alternative passports – in practice, the well-bred, educated and hygiene-conscious – are still allowed in.  However, the Malaysians have reckoned without our formidable and voluptuous Secretary for Security, Regina Ip.  They should be grateful,
she tells them, that Hongkongers deign to visit their grotty little country, trek through its cannibal- and mosquito-infested jungles, buy its ugly batik clothing, risk the wrath of its Muslim fundamentalists, and eat its sinicised curries and other dangerously miscegenistic food. Will call and commend her for not mincing words.  Chastened Kuala Lumpur officials are no doubt rushing to lift the travel ban right now.