Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
6-12 July 2003
Mon, 7 Jul
Switch on the radio for the 6.30am news.  "Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa has announced that he intends to dissolve the Hong Kong people and appoint a new one."  Switch it off again.  I can't help feeling sorry for the crop-haired one.  Sprinkling soy sauce on his humble pie, he can console himself with the thought that Article 23 "is a matter relating to the national dignity and the glory of the
Chinese race."  But the concessions he made over the weekend will only encourage the lower orders to imagine that they have a say in how this city is governed.  And now, in losing the support of the pro-business-cartel Liberal Party, he is faced with the equivalent of losing a vote of no confidence. Conspiracy theorists will see James Tien's resignation from the Executive Council as part of a power struggle in Beijing between the factions of President Hu and ex-President Jiang – Tung's anointer.  I see it simply as proof that even nematodes have an instinct for self-preservation, just as vermin flee sinking ships. The consistently pro-Tung DAB has more integrity.  Point a gun at James Tien and demand that he hand over all his principles, and you will get barely a thimbleful.

Wild American friend Odell is not very happy – he has printed a limited-edition T-shirt (100 only to be sold at HK$189 each) in anticipation of a big demonstration outside the Legislative Council on Wednesday. He fears he will be stuck with them.  Around a photo of an open-mouthed, bug-eyed Tung are the words
Are you deaf?  We said fuck off, you fat fool.   I can't help but admire it – radical, but unencumbered by politically correct concern for the feelings of the hearing-impaired or the obese.  And so wonderfully alliterative!  I'm sure there will be a demo, I tell him, and even if there isn't, market demand for this product is bound to surge before long.

The Hang Seng Index provides us with classic proof of the rule that the markets hate chaos but like certainty. Appreciative of the certainty that CH Tung is in deep doodoo, the index ends the day up 2.65%.  

Tue, 8 July
Woken early again by my recurring nightmare about living in Discovery Bay.  Start the day sitting with Odell in Pacific Coffee at IFC Mall, drinking hot, brown, water-flavoured liquid.  He is happy – his 100 T-shirts (Egyptian cotton, individually-numbered, historic family heirloom, etc) have sold out already.  Elton John’s old song
Tiny Dancer plays.  The office fodder pass in waves two and a half minutes apart, the interval at which MTR trains from Kowloon deposit them here in Civilization.  “Lose some weight,” murmers Odell, as a barrel-shaped lady in an unflattering sarong-type skirt strolls by on the other side of the glass.  “Be careful,” I warn him. “Nepalese are excellent lip-readers.” 

We are both off at the end of the week.  He will go to Thailand with his wife Mee, spending time with her family in some jungle village, then a few days in Pattaya. 
Pattaya? Memories return of a half-day in the place, en-route to a former air force general’s lavish teak mansion in the midst of a Rayong Province rubber plantation.   I can pass through the demi-monde with a cool detachment – let the floating world lap against me and drift past me.  But I draw the line at Pattaya. What a loathsome excrescence.  Thailand overall is fine.  The food is excellent, and the grinning xenophobes who inhabit the place are pleasant enough.  But Pattaya goes beyond sleaze.  It’s a cheerless gutter, without hope.  Open garbage bins with used sanitary napkins in them.  Russian reptiles crawling out of dark holes to sun themselves.  Tales of hookers who drug foreign tourists with poisoned nipples.  Odell dismisses my lurid recollections of the place.  “Nah,” he drawls, shaking his head, “it’s not that good.”
I will have three weeks on the Hemlock Filial Piety Tour, paying respects to family in the US and the UK.  It is time for a break when Hong Kong, normally so dull and predictable, gets this weird.  The Asia Times publishes an article largely devoid of stupidity.  The ridiculous James Tien is a hero. The fragrant, misunderstood Regina is sharpening her sword.  Edwin Ma, the South China Morning Post’s all-seeing astrologer, says of CH Tung – an Ox – “Your ability to process experiences is part of what makes you such a deep person.”
Wed, 9 July
More praise flies around for young people’s role model James Tien, who so heroically stabbed his boss in the back to dissociate himself from what was partly his own work.  What integrity – I will sprint to him in an instant with an open wallet should I ever need a used car. 

Looking across Victoria Harbour from S-Meg Tower, I am absorbed by the subtle interplay of the dark green tones of the Kowloon hillsides – almost like a pointillist painting.  For eight straight days, visibility has been unusually good.  The 1 July march cleared the air.  An interesting ad in the newspaper.  “For Sale.  One
LoMoTung ® accountability system.  Never used.  Call 2878 3300.”  But I see no openings for policy secretaries or cabinet members – no indication that our dedicated senior officials will be moving on any time soon, despite expectations that blood will soon be dripping onto the Executive Council Samarkand carpet. The chattering classes call for departures by the dozen, but suggest no new faces.  Not surprising.  The wok is empty.  The present lot are the scrapings from the bottom.  Who can tick all the boxes?   Loyalty to Party.  Political acumen.  Communication skills.  Patriotism/love of glorious motherland/chip on shoulder from a long time ago about gwailos.  At least a hint of relevant experience.   And then… Willingness to be scarred for life with the mark of Tung.  The headhunters might as well be looking for hens’ teeth.
Legendary on-line sage Stiffy comes up with the right idea for 50,000 protesters in Central this evening.
Thurs, 10 July
The mood outside the circus was almost festive last night, as veterans of the 1 July march
reunited to demand the Big One – “constitutional development”, “political reform” or, in plain English, “democracy”.  This campaign will be drawn-out and probably ugly.  Not that crowds of people will hold their babies in the air and defy soldiers to open fire, as they did in Manila in 1986.  But, knowing how democracies usually put consumers before cartels, our captains of industry will protect their political influence with the fury of a lioness defending her cubs.  And a lioness is not a pretty sight after 500,000 people have trampled over it.

Aside from the bewildered and fumbling Mr Tung, and Regina the delectable but unsettled single mother, the heartless mob has its eyes on our elegant Financial Secretary Antony Leung as a candidate for the guillotine.  I am half tempted to agree with the brutes after he speeds dangerously close to me as I stroll along Lower Albert Road this morning.  At least, I assume it’s him – a Lexus with a
Have You Enhanced Communication With All Your Sectors Today? bumper sticker.

Drop into the bookstore to pick up some summer reading for CH.  I'm sure at least one or two of these half-dozen books will be of interest.  He needs to relax.  Rest.  Take stock.  Contemplate.  Calm down.  Drink.  We all do. 

Including the company gwailo at S-Meg Holdings, though the Big Boss is peeved that I have contrived to be away during the only three-week period in the year when he will not once set foot outside Hong Kong.

All that remains for me to do today is leave instructions and cash for the Filipino elves, pack my bag, check the passport and ticket and get out to the airport.  Next stop, the land of the free – and that's not just the refills.   I will bring this diary, but probably not open it much for the rest of the month.