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

6-12 June 2004

Mon, 7 June
More nostalgia than news at the moment.  Two days after the 15th anniversary of the Beijing massacre comes the 60th commemoration of D-Day, which coincides with the death of Ronald Reagan, slayer of communism.  “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit,” said a sign on his desk in the Oval Office – the creed of company gwailos the world over.  The South China Morning Post fails to find a local angle to the story.  They could mention that Ronnie’s 1951 follow-up to Bedtime for Bonzo was originally titled Hong Kong, in honour of ‘the Orient’s most dangerous city’ – as the Big Lychee was in those days, before we cut down all our pollution-causing trees.  But they don’t.

Tue, 8 June
I plan to stay up all night standing outside the General Post Office in Central.  This way, I will be first in line tomorrow to buy Hong Kong’s latest series of postage stamps, which pay socialist realism-style tribute to the heroic men and women of the People’s Liberation Army stationed largely unseen in the Big Lychee.  The first stamp shows the inverted gin bottle that long ago housed the headquarters of the British imperialist paper tigers’ Far Eastern Command.  The second portrays a valiant young serviceman selflessly donating blood in a modern, hygienic, well-equipped public relations office.  Number three features a PLA open day, when happy, smiling children from patriotic schools inspect the materiel, and Tung Chee-hwa turns up to praise the enormous and vital contribution the glorious motherland’s military makes to Hong Kong.  The fourth gives us a classic, stirring view of massed ranks of personnel and equipment.  The fifth gives us a classic, stirring view of massed ranks of personnel and equipment, except the design committee daringly arranges the elements in reverse order.  And the sixth gives us a classic, stirring view of massed ranks of personnel and equipment.  A piece of philatelic history.  Never before has so little artistry been applied to such small pieces of gummed paper to produce so much oozing obsequiousness.
Today's SCMP’s op-ed page beats the amateurs at Hong Kong Post effortlessly.  If I could award a global prize for sycophancy and toadying, it would go to someone called S Wayne Morrison...
Democracy lessons from China

If I could award a global prize for human rights or freedoms, it would go to China. The criterion: the largest number of people, or percentage of the population, given basic freedoms over any period in recent years. China would win easily.

You cannot be serious, I can hear someone say. Well, let us define human rights: the ones we hear much about are political rights, but there are also the rights to freedom from hunger, poverty and unemployment, and the rights to work, health, education and representative government, among a host of others….

…Representative government – call it democracy – is the one thing that gives China a lot of problems, and on which there is incremental progress. Why the problems? Because China does not want to jeopardise the important freedoms it has built on the back of its economic success, or that success itself. A country must attain those freedoms in order to have any hope of genuine democracy...

…Democracy cannot be an end in itself and the idea that it delivers all is a sham. Nor can it be demanded, or practised effectively, from a position of poverty. To do so is a recipe for disorder and will be applauded only by the US State Department in delivering its sermon on human rights and democracy. This is why China insists on stability, which, as any government and foreign investor knows, is the key to building an economy.

Hong Kong had the building blocks long ago: prosperity and economic freedom (the British understood their importance well), personal freedoms and legal freedom. After 1997, we lost prosperity. Now China is restoring it. Hong Kong is moving towards democracy, but there are problems peculiar to the handover: chief among them, territorial integrity and loyalty to the sovereign...

S. Wayne Morrison is an editor on the Post's opinion pages.
Wed, 9 June
With the Big Boss patriotically pretending to take an interest in amazing investment opportunities in some northeastern rust-belt hellhole, I have plenty of free time to flick through the papers.  I am reminded of how words are weapons.  The armament of choice in Hong Kong’s ongoing civil war is the expression ‘polarization’.  People are brutally clubbing each other over the head with it in their attempts to work together and achieve trust and understanding.  Our graceful former Chief Secretary Anson Chan wields it deftly while contributing to the search for harmony and consensus in an
article in this week’s Time magazine…
…the manner in which the central government has handled this whole issue, coupled with its public rhetoric and posturing reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, have left most Hong Kong people puzzled, hurt and frustrated.

I do not doubt that Beijing wants what is best for Hong Kong. In its eyes, stability is key. But the tactics being employed are likely to have the opposite effect. Hong Kong society is now polarized to an extent not seen in recent history…
The reference to the Cultural Revolution hits a raw nerve like a sliver of bamboo under the fingernail, leaving Beijing puzzled, hurt and frustrated.  Grumpy, sour-faced, mouth-frothing stegosaurus Xu Simin grabs the nearest ‘polarization’ and does his bit for unity and concord in a Wen Wei Po/China Daily column...
……I am hereby giving Chan a piece of advice: your pretence cannot cover up your evil tricks.  The self-styled "Conscience of Hong Kong" should be ashamed of herself.
China Daily is a sure source of non-stop entertainment these days.  Leftist, Buddhist, organic food fetishist Lau Nai-keung encourages ‘tolerance and courtesy’ by finding something we can all agree on – the fascinating awfulness of our tofu-for-brains Chief Executive.  “Tung has become even more elusive, and more distant from the public,” he laments.  Lau could teach “S Wayne Morrison” (great pen name!) a few lessons in shoe-shining Beijing.  It’s not difficult.  Assume an air of weary detachment to appear objective, rather than regurgitating the party line intact.  Gently place your tongue (or sometimes for a change, nose) into the imperial backside, rather than shove your entire head up it.
Thurs, 10 June
Gliding down the Mid-Levels Escalator, I suddenly realize the truth about the ‘ladies who weld’ – the women who walk our streets wearing huge dark visors that completely obscure their faces, probably to no-one’s great loss.  At first, I thought they were chic metalworkers.  Then I wondered if they were perhaps Muslim – or maybe people following instructions from Hallmark and getting into the Halloween spirit a little early.  And now – it strikes me.  This is the next stage of the bizarre skin-whitening fervour that has recently gripped Hong Kong’s hordes of dimwitted bimbos.  Aside from giving children nightmares, the masks keep the sun from sullying these women’s chalky bleached faces with any tint of life as they pout their way from one cosmetics store to the next.  How long before rickets joins SARS, dengue fever and chicken flu as iconic ailments of Asia’s world city?
Despite being treated to her favourite chicken congee and fried noodles for breakfast at the Foreign Correspondents Club, Administrative Officer Winky Ip is as grumpy this fine morning as she is voluptuous.  I try to cheer her up.  “I’m getting emails from perverts who want me to put a picture of you on the Internet,” I tell her.  “Just um… between the neck and the waist.”   She eyes me coldly.  “You could do it now with your mobile phone – just go into the ladies’ room, take a picture, and um, you know, unbutton your blouse a bit.”  She pointedly buttons her Giorgio Armani jacket.  “You can tell your revolting little friends, ‘in their dreams’.”  I nod obediently.  I think that’s a ‘no’.  Maybe some other day, when she’s less depressed by her colleagues’ low spirits. 

She stirs her
juk and sighs.  “Morale in the civil service is just really bad right now,” she says, shaking her head sadly.  “There’s a rumour that they’re going to scrap our furniture and domestic appliances allowance completely.”  I give her a quizzical look.  “It’s in lieu of actual furniture in NDQs,” she explains.  I am still none the wiser.  “That’s Non-Departmental Quarters.”  Ah – luxury apartments for which the public-sector leeches pay a peppercorn rent of 7.5 percent of their salary.  “And that’s not all,” she continues, pursing her lips.  “The word is they’ll be scrapping air-conditioning allowances, too.”  I choke on a sip of jasmine tea.  Oh my God.  Shock, horror and outrage as world’s most overpaid civil servants use own cash to pay for domestic furniture and air-con.  Full details at ten.

Fri, 11 June
Hong Kong mourns, as Bo-Bo the killer crocodile – the perfect metaphor for the city’s struggle for democracy, for our people’s yearning to breath free and eat lots of very fresh chicken and seafood regardless of the health hazards – is finally incarcerated.  The newspapers show the reptile in its new home sporting a boldly defiant grin.  Strolling through IFC Mall, I imagine a member of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, walking into its cage and giving the insolent beast a good slap on the face to instill a bit of respect into it.  An attack of
predictable allegory syndrome.

Outside Exchange Square, I find wild ex-Mormon friend Odell sunning himself and sipping an organic mangosteen, tea tree oil and chamomile yogurt.  He is determined to continue the fight for democracy.  “I’m having a hundred of these printed to sell – 199 bucks each – at the July the First march,” he announces, pulling a t-shirt out of his backpack.  “As a gesture to Beijing, the pro-democracy movement is avoiding the slogan ‘return power to the people’, so I thought of this.”   He holds it up.  ‘We just want to elect our own fucking mayor for Christ’s sake’, it reads.  “Pithy,” I tell him approvingly.   “Eloquent.”  I ask Odell if he is aware of the Government’s Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund, which hands out HK$2 million grants to encourage such entrepreneurship and help Hong Kong meet the challenge of Shanghai, with its visionary sinking maglev train, brownouts and talcum powder-based baby formula.  His ears prick up.  He agrees to send them a sample.  The scent of taxpayers’ money – free for the taking, candy-like from the babies of the Trade, Commerce and Industry Bureau.  Like all successful predatory carnivores, Odell has an excellent sense of smell. The spirit of Bo-Bo  lives on.