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

8-14 August 2004

Sun, 8 Aug
A lazy afternoon sipping Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris and watching VCDs of assorted satire on my PC. 

I start with Michael Moore’s
Fahrenheit 9/11, which demands an Oscar for polemical editing and the digging-up of obscure and embarrassing archive footage.  Against shots of shattered Afghani civilians’ limbs, Donald Rumsfeld reminds us of the “humanity that goes into targeting.”  Paul Wolfowitz performs more oral sex on a comb than any Deputy Defense Secretary in history – on camera, anyway.  A younger, smarmy businessman-on-the-make George W Bush declares how great it is to have the power that comes with having a daddy in the White House.  And the same man, older if not wiser, spends long, agonizing minutes in a Florida elementary school after being told of the terrorist attacks, looking to My Pet Goat for guidance on what to do next.  Great entertainment, and a brilliant example of creativity and effort in countering manipulatory bias with more manipulatory bias.
Next, the 100 percent made-in-Hong Kong, low-budget animation My Life As McDull.  Although the merchandising spin-offs suggest it’s aimed at kids, it is surely best appreciated by adults, who are more likely to need a reminder of how miserable childhood is.  The hero, a dim and ugly piglet being brought up in Shamshuipo by a single mother in reduced circumstances, has plenty of farcical and happy moments.  But it’s the disappointments that stick in his mind.  Reviewer Shelly Kraicer describes it as “the coming-of-age story of a little boy and a city that, under pressure from authority, invents identities, only to see them crumble when their contradictions become impossible to hide.”  Best scene – as kindergarten teacher Ms Chan (played by The Pancakes) sings All Things Bright and Beautiful to McDull and his pals, the camera pans out of the classroom window and across the landscape of grimy, grey Kowloon slums.
Finally, South Park Bigger, Longer and Uncut. The title doesn’t even start to hint at the depravity to come.  Assuming that the medium is the message, the message here is that the more you irritate enemies of free speech – the cruder, more tasteless, obscene and offensive you are – the funnier it gets.  This subtlety is lost on some.  The Christian Analysis of American Culture Ministry don’t get the joke, referring to the movie as “sinematic cyanide … extraordinarily vulgar, vile, and repugnant.”  My neighbours at Perpetual Opulence mansions are banging on the door telling me to stop laughing so loudly.

Mon, 9 Aug
Is our Communist Party front, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, going to run out of ‘horse power’?  Their leader, disheveled schoolboy Ma Lik, announces he has
colon cancer.  Since he keeps a low profile at the best of times, it’s quite possible that no-one will notice the difference as he spends the Legco election campaign getting treatment.  And no doubt he will recover – Ronald Reagan fought off colon, prostate and skin cancer with one hand while battling Russkies, air traffic controllers and Sandinistas with the other.  But this hot weather has a nasty effect on me.  It curdles my mind, turning my usual sweetness into suspicion. 

I consider fact number one.  Audrey Eu, Rita Fan, charismatic Democrat Yeung Sum and Ma will all win seats on HK Island in September, and Audrey will pull in enough votes to bring running mate Cyd Ho in.  That leaves one seat to go to either the Democrats’ number two, Martin Lee, or his DAB counterpart Choy So-yuk – a close call, but with the odds tilted a bit towards Lee.  Now I consider fact number two.  Mainland and pro-Beijing elements are doing all they can to minimize the number of pro-democrats winning seats.  They won’t leave things to chance.  They will stage-manage anything they can get away with.  Then I consider fact number three.  Ma was diagnosed in a Guangzhou hospital, surrounded by loyalists, far from prying fingers that leak medical records to newspapers.  And I experience a nagging, summertime feeling that there is something going on.  In my sordid imagination I see patriotic elements discussing the numbers with undecided voters.  If Ma wastes away over the months and dies, they say, there will be a single-seat by-election, which the pro-democrats will win.  So, it’s essential to make sure that the DAB wins that sixth seat.  And I hear Franklin D Roosevelt’s words – “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.”  And I can only conclude that this whole thing is a fabrication – a charade.  I resolve to follow DAB campaigners wherever they go, shouting “Show us the polyps!”

Tue, 10 Aug
Congee and noodles for breakfast with buxom Administrative Officer Winky Ip at Yuet Yuen restaurant – just fumigated, the grinning owner assures us.  After several months on election-related duties, Winky is being transferred back to the inner sanctum of the Government’s propaganda operation.  And it shows.  “Second highest life expectancy in the world!” she announces cheerfully.  “Largest per-capita consumption of oranges.  The most Mercedes cars per road-kilometre.  Highest abortion rate in the developed
world.  Highest rate of mobile phone ownership by under-10s.  Highest per-capita gambling turnover.  The world’s longest TV screen.  The world’s longest road and rail suspension bridge.  Hong Kong’s bouncing back!  We’re wiping the floor with the rest of the planet!”  I put on my best ‘suitably impressed’ look.  “Don’t forget more suicides than road deaths,” I tell her, stirring chili into my noodles.  “And, of course, the big one… The world’s highest average IQ – 107!”  She nods eagerly. 

Of course, I remind her, the IQ figure is just an average.  “Think hard enough and I’m sure you’ll recall one or two residents of this city who give the impression of falling somewhat short of 107.”  She scratches her head and looks slightly perplexed.  “How about Liberal Party boss James Tien?” I prompt her.  “An exceptional man,” I continue.  “He has a textile business inherited from daddy.  Highly valuable production quotas granted at no cost by the Hong Kong Government (maybe).  A collection of tacky sports cars.  A goofy demeanour.  A heroic reputation when all he did was stab the Government in the back over Article 23 out of pure cowardice and opportunism.  He has three nipples and one testicle.  But he doesn’t have much between the ears.”

This will be the theme of the coming election, I explain.  To the DAB, the people will ask “Show us the polyps!”  To the Liberals it will be “Show us the brain!”  Stirring her congee, Winky sighs deeply.  “I don’t need to remind you that the more seats those people win, the sooner we get universal suffrage.”  As always when confronted by female common sense, I squirm.
Courtesy – the Walter W Wilde Esq Passport Photo Studio
Wed, 11 Aug
Looking out of my office window on the top floor of S-Meg Tower, I survey a grey sky, a grey harbour, grey concrete.  Grey air.  A dash of colour drifts into view – a bulging, upside-down, red, yellow and white plastic supermarket bag, floating through the gloom like a jellyfish in the murky depths.  Jefferson Airplane’s classic
Surrealistic Pillow plays on the PC, and I flick through the newspapers.  It’s that time of the year when editors have a hard time filling space.  In a piece that will go down in the annals of investigative journalism, the South China Morning Post manages to find… what?  Hen’s teeth?  Life on Mars?  No – a drunk gwailo barrister in Discovery Bay, one Roderick Murray.  “…at one point he started waving a cucumber around,” report the newspaper’s sleuths.  What will they unearth next – a corrupt senior Bank of China (Hong Kong) executive?
Crazed genius and Emperor of the Universe Lee Kwan Yew will install his first-born son as Prime Minister of Singapore tomorrow.  It’s not nepotism.  Lee Hsien Loong entered this world on the 15th day of the first moon in a Dragon year and is the reincarnation of Sung Dynasty war hero Yue Fei – a fellow Hakka.  Ever since he leapt over the table in a cabinet meeting and gouged Foreign Affairs Minister S Dhanabalan’s eyes out with a spoon, it has been obvious that Baby God was the man for the job.  Meanwhile, 80-year-old, arthritic fingers being impossible to prise from the controls of this warped experiment, Lee senior will continue to serve the Lion City as ‘Minister Mentor’.  An anagram of ‘interim monster’. Through his offspring, he will clutch the place from his grave.

Which is why this won’t happen in Singapore...  A Hong Kong court delivers a sharp
slap on the wrists to the Independent Commission Against Corruption by annulling the search warrants it used to raid seven newspapers and reporters’ homes last month.  The valiant graft fighters hoodwinked the judge who reluctantly issued the warrants by withholding details of legal precedents.  Now the entertainment will begin.  I take a quick draw on the opium pipe and let my mind drift.  I imagine the scene at ICAC HQ...  “Hey, we lost face for being jerks – guess we’ll have to live with it.”  My senses return.  No arm of the Hong Kong Government will ever accept an adverse legal judgment with good grace.  They will kick.  They will scream.  They will have a tantrum.  They will threaten to hold their breath until they die.  Tofu-for-brains Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa should send them to bed with no supper – but he will mysteriously be somewhere else.  They will surely appeal the ruling and prolong their humiliation and our amusement.  It will make paying tax a pleasure.
Thurs, 12 Aug
After last
June’s patriotic philatelic celebration of our heroic People’s Liberation Army, the Hong Kong Post Office announces plans to let its customers lick Deng Xiaoping’s backside.  Or back side, at least…
Late afternoon, gliding up the Mid-Levels Escalator, I stop off in Soho to lend a volume of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories to wild American friend Odell.  Planning to leave the book outside his apartment door if he is out, I find that his Thai wife Mee is in the hallway, red-faced, breathless and shouting at the door.  “I know you’re in there!” she screams.  “I heard a girl!  Open the door!”  She rattles the door handle violently.  “Oh, I’m sure he’s not in,” I assure her calmly.  She pulls out her mobile phone.  Seconds later, we hear a metallic, zippy rendition of Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra from inside the flat.  Not giving me a second glance, Mee pulls an old-style, flexible plastic MTR ticket from her purse and slips it round the edge of the door near the lock.  The door opens just two inches – it is chained.  With an almost bovine snort, she stands back and kicks it with a deafening crash.  The chain holds, but an 18-inch strip of doorframe does not. 

She marches in, shouting at a hapless Odell standing in the middle of the living room.  “Who’s in there?” she demands at the top of her voice, pointing at the closed door of the spare bedroom.  “Look,” he mumbles, holding his hands up in half-surrender, “come on, calm down.  I can explain ev…”  A pink bra – far too small to fit Mee – is hurled into his face.  Mee bangs on the locked door.  “Come out you fucking bitch!”  Thai and Cantonese equivalents follow.  “What is it this time?” she yells at Odell.  “Filipino?  Indonesian?”  She bangs on the door again. 

I lean into the apartment, place the book on a cabinet near the door, wave silently at Odell and run for the lift.  Punching the ‘door close’ button, I sigh in relief.  Then, behind me, I hear a voice.  “It’s her fault for coming back early.”  Odell is fleeing with me.  “Nepalese girl,” he mumbles.  He asks whether I can put him up this evening.  So there he is, drunk and sleeping here in Perpetual Opulence Mansions.  A serious injection of cash into a family in a village of head-shrinking hunter-gatherers in northeast Thailand will solve the problem.  The mangled remains of a Kathmandu belle will be found in a Mid-Levels alleyway.  And all will be sweetness and light again.  As always, I weep in pity for myself, deprived as I am of the joys of married life.

Fri, 13 Aug
I begin this sunny Friday the 13th by dragging Odell, screaming and kicking, out of Perpetual Opulence Mansions and onto the Mid-Levels Escalator for the short journey down to the lobby of his apartment block, where I leave him to meet his doom.  He has calculated that the purchase of a motorbike for Mee’s family will spare him his life.  Thus a brief liaison with a Nepalese lady – which got no further than bra-removal stage – will set him back 100,000 baht.  Yet again, it strikes me how life would be unbearable were it not for the misery of our friends.

Feeling a touch of flu coming on, I stir a nip of cognac into my congee while flicking through the newspapers in my office.  The case of drunken barrister Roderick Murray is attracting
global attention.  ‘Bar chairman defends lawyers’ right to pre-court drink’ announces the SCMP.  This could get interesting.  Hospital director defends neurologists’ right to pre-brain surgery drink.  Airline boss defends pilots’ right to pre-flight drink.  Police chief defends bomb disposal squad’s right to pre-grenade deactivation drink.  Full details at ten.