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

7-13 November 2004

Sun, 7 Nov
Lunch at morose American friend Odel’s apartment.  His Thai wife Mee conjures up chicken and peanut curry, squid salad, sour vegetable soup and fresh lime juice – I’m temped to ask her to dump her depressed husband and live with me.  Odell is still wallowing in despondency after George W Bush’s defeat of John Kerry.  He shows me some anti-Bush T-shirts and stickers that he had ordered on-line.  They only arrived yesterday, he explains with a heavy sigh.  I stare at the ceiling.  This is pitiful.  “Snap out of it,” I tell him. “Did you hear Bush on the news this morning?”  He shakes his head.  “He was addressing the people.  He said – ‘My fellow Americans.  As I speak, latte-drinking sodomites found in possession of Sartre or Moliere are being rounded up and sent in chains into the cotton fields to learn decent Christian values through honest labour and submission to the lash.  Oh, and Teheran – we begin bombing in five minutes.’ That’s what he said.  Honest.”  He still looks numbed.  “No – you didn’t hear that, did you?” I cajole him. “I told you last week, we’re going to see a new
W now, reaching out and uniting the world.”  He looks up and sees that I do not believe a single word I am saying. He utters a contemptuous grunt.  Bush has made  misunderestimators out of a lot of people.  “Well, whatever,” I say, trying to console him.  “Keep hold of those stickers – they’ll be worth big money one day.”
Mon, 8 Nov
What is the collective noun for government employees?  An annoyance?  A provocation?  A bureaucracy?  Maybe a ream.  That will do.  Reams of angry civil servants draft anguished emails to righteously stake their claims to Hong Kong people’s wealth.  They ooze out of my PC all over my desk – reasons more desperate than the insurgents holed up in Fallujah, justifications weaker than Tung Chee-hwa’s leadership, and logic thinner than Administrative Officer Winky Ip’s visible panty line. 

Even if our compensation is too high, we have already had some pay cuts, and it’s unfair to reduce pay even further.
If the bank accidentally transfers someone else’s money into your account, is it ‘unfair’ that you have to return it?  No.  Next…

A contract is a contract.  We signed it, they signed it – end of story.
That’s what they said about the Treaty of Nanking of 1842.  It’s not the end of the story if the contract is found to be unreasonably onerous or impractical.  Next…

The Basic Law says our terms cannot be less favourable than before 1997.
Does it specify real terms or nominal terms?  You were happy to assume it meant real terms when we had inflation, so…   And what does ‘less favourable’ mean in a document in which ‘right of abode’ means ‘no right of abode’ and ‘high degree of autonomy’ means ‘low degree of autonomy’?  Next…

Inane rambling about ‘morale’]
Morale is the last refuge of a scoundrel (Johnson).  When I hear the word ‘morale’, I reach for my gun (Goering).  No-one ever lost any money by overestimating the morale of the Hong Kong Civil Service (HL Mencken).

I think that concludes the matter decisively.

Tue, 9 Nov
Sitting in my office in S-Meg Tower perusing the lead stories in the newspaper, I find that all is well in the Big Lychee.  Mainland officials
froth at the mouth over suggestions that Hong Kong hold a referendum on whether to have democracy in 2007-08.  Who can fail to see their logic?  How can you allow a democratic process to decide whether to adopt a democratic process?  It is like having sex to see how it feels, with a view to subsequently losing your virginity if you decide you like it.  Meanwhile, Cultureport, Tung Chee-hwa’s visionary plan to make Hong Kong an artistic centre by decree, is progressing well.  Under the creative guidance of noted aesthete and connoisseur of fine art Li Ka-shing, the 40-hectare site will be lovingly layered with the finest silken concrete money can buy, beautifully complemented by shimmering sheets of the highest quality sparkling glass and bold columns of exquisite, traditionally crafted steel.  This architectural wonder will house 7.2 million sq ft of luxury apartments priced within the civil servants-to-drug lords affordability range, 2.5 million sq ft of cosmetics outlets for Mainland tourists, a museum of chopsticks and a garden containing a local sculptor’s poor attempt at being Henry Moore.  Public opinion polls suggest that the fragrant harbour’s citizens would prefer the whole space to be made into a park, with unhygienic grass, maloderous trees, chaotic cycle paths, noisy kiddies’ playgrounds and no buildings – a perfect example of why these uncultured philistine riffraff can’t be allowed near a referendum.

WHAT DID Hong Kong look like back in the days before smog reduced visibility to nothing?  It seems like a long time ago, but according to the HK Tourism Board’s
live Peak webcam – ‘live’ as in ‘taken last clear day’ – it was 29 October.  That’s this year!  After staring at this strange scene with all those ugly buildings and tacky blue sky, I find that patience is rewarded and the webcam updates itself, revealing a charming shot of the majestic landscape – grey freeway gracing grey waters and a grey sky – that tourists find so alluring

Wed, 10 Nov
US Attorney General John Ashcroft resigns.  He will surely be remembered most of all for spending US$8,000 of taxpayers’ money on a curtain to cover up the shameful, mammary gland-revealing statue
The Majesty of Justice in the Justice Department’s Great Hall, which caused him to have impure thoughts during press conferences.  Typical Federal Government waste.  It would have been cheaper for him to have started each day with a dash of corporal mortification.  It is good to chastise the body – to reduce it to servitude.  Blessed be pain, as they say at Opus Dei.  They scourge themselves with whips and thrust bundles of thorns down their underwear.  Other people have icy cold showers or abstain from fine food.  In the same spirit this morning, I deny myself the pleasure of the company of curvaceous civil servant Winky Ip over breakfast at the Foreign Correspondents Club.  For reasons that I cannot fathom, she  is not talking to me.  To intensify the self-inflicted agony, I endure a South China Morning Post article ‘Tung pays warm tribute to 100 years of the Post’.
A stranger sitting at the next table – a 30-something bespectacled Brit with ‘techie’ written all over him – imagines that I would welcome tiresome details about his life.  What a relief, he informs me, to find the club open for his favourite breakfast of bacon and eggs.  It seems he has run out of food at home.  He goes on to tell me that this won’t happen in future when we have proper networks.  Apparently, my refrigerator will notice when there is no milk and butter in it, and it will automatically order them from the supermarket for immediate delivery.  Shocked, I put my chopsticks down and look at him seriously.  “You’re kidding,” I say.  He shakes his head smugly.  “When my fridge notices I don’t have any milk and butter,” I ask him, “it’ll email the supermarket and they’ll deliver it?”  Exactly, he confirms.  With perhaps a slight hint of menace, I lean closer and look him in the eye.  “There’s one problem,” I tell him slowly.  “I never touch milk.  Or butter.”  He looks at me in a surprised silence.  “So I’ve got this lunatic refrigerator in my kitchen and tons of nasty food I never eat mounting up on my doorstep.  Who do I sue?” 

Glancing at my watch, I get up to go.  He looks up as I leave.  “What about toast?” he calls after me.  “There have been some major developments in toaster technology.”
Thurs, 11 Nov
“Tell me if I should know anything in this rubbish,” says the Big Boss in the morning meeting, tossing a booklet across the table to me.  Back in my office, with Arvo Part’s
Fratres playing on the PC, memories from 12 September return.  I am in my local polling station, and an official tells me off for folding my ballot paper wrongly before putting it into the box.  Later that day – at a time when, for obscure psephological reasons, pro-democracy voters turn out in larger numbers – some people wanting to vote were turned away as ballot boxes had run out.  Now the Electoral Affairs Commission, staffed by some of  the world’s most highly paid and inept civil servants, issues its report on the matter, titled The Dog Ate My Homework.
…It was then necessary … to redesign a new type of ballot paper of A3 size so that the specified particulars of candidates could be shown on the ballot paper. On the other hand, a new type of ballot box had to be produced as the much larger old ballot boxes would be too heavy to handle when filled with the much heavier new ballot papers…

…The Commission regrettably notes that the staff that had designed and ordered the new ballot boxes had not envisaged that the A3-size ballot papers could be inserted into the ballot box by electors in many different ways…

…The … newly designed ballot box … was flawed in design in that the ballot papers inserted into it did not invariably fall flat and pile up neatly one over another…
The boxes were assumed to have a capacity of 1,000 ballots.  The report’s authors did a test…
…it was found that shaking of the box was required after the insertion of 315 papers. With five more occasions of shakings, the capacity of the box was found to be about 690…
How many occasions of shakings do these genius civil servants deserve?  None, of course.  They should be dragged into the middle of Lower Albert Road in full view of the press, stripped naked, bent over XL-size ballot boxes and have their air conditioning allowances and their furnishings allowances and their children’s overseas education allowances stuffed up their backsides with red hot pokers.
Fri, 12 Nov
Looking at the bulletin board in the Foreign Correspondents Club, I find a notice from one Glenn Rogers, Managing Editor of
Mediazone Publishing, inviting ex-Far Eastern Economic Review staff to submit resumes and ‘a letter stating WHY you believe in and support the continuity of the cause of FEER’.  Rumour has it that mysterious Mainland money is behind an attempt to resurrect the magazine in some form.  Sadly, the gossip is without foundation.  This is simply a way to recruit some cheap staff for Mediazone’s flagship publication, the gripping Swiss Visionaries in Hong Kong.

A former
FEER writer dashes around the club screaming “support the continuity of the cause!”   Delectable Administrative Officer Winky Ip brushes past him and joins me for breakfast.  “I forgive you for mentioning my visible panty line,” she tells me, “but you’ve got to stop this civil servant-bashing.  Everyone’s at it – it’s wrecking morale.”  I am beside myself with remorse.  These poor people’s spirits – the fabric of their confidence – must be in tatters, knowing that they are paid only 200 percent more than the rest of us.  To change the subject, I ask Winky what the Next Big Thing is going to be.  “The West Kowloon cultural hub,” she replies.  I roll my eyes.  Son of Cyberport.  Another gift to Li Ka-shing.  I beg Winky to confirm that the vast glass canopy planned to cover the site will never see the light of day.  She looks at me in horror.  “It must!” she hisses, looking round to make sure we are not being overheard.  “That’s the one thing that has to be there.  It’s non-negotiable!”  I am bemused.  Why?  “Ssshh!” she snaps back.  “Don’t even talk about it!  I can’t tell you any more.”  We will see about that.
I glance at the newspaper.  Never check into a French military hospital.  That is the lesson I conclude after seeing the speed with which bumbling Gallic army doctors botched everything and dispatched tyrannical Palestinian mad-dog terrorist Yasser Arafat, the heroic leader of his oppressed people.  Does the world need another Arab country?  It is a discomfiting question.  There must be 15 or more already, and not one manages to have a democratically elected government, a free press or rule of law.  The one nation in their midst that does is run by their Hebrew cousins, a fact that inspires me to new heights of world-saving lateral thinking.  The Palestinians should convert to Judaism.  Problem over.

LATE EVENING, and an email from my mother, with which I find it hard to disagree...
So, Arafat has gone. I always felt so sorry for all those people who who had to kiss him.