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

8-14 February 2004

Sun, 8 Feb
In the Body Shop on Queen’s Road, hoping to replenish my dwindling supply of peppermint and nutmeg shampoo, I am bullied mercilessly by the sales staff.  "All shampoo is 30 percent off," declares Sindy the assistant, distraught to see someone stupid enough to be buying just one bottle.  I sigh and take another one from the shelf – an opaque yellow concoction described as banana and cucumber.  "Thirty percent off, limited period, you should buy three," she urges.  With deflation coming to an end, maybe she has a point.  Looking at the range of shampoo flavours, I shrug and go for the greenish-coloured seaweed and peony.  "Conditioner?" she suggests, pointing at the adjacent shelves.  I smile weakly.  No.  What is that stuff for?   As I pay, she grins and points excitedly to the mango and jojoba foot-moistening lotion.  "Two for one!"  I shake my head.  Handing over my change, she touches a plastic box next to the cash register and asks whether I would like to donate $20 to some charity for starving children.  This done, Sindy presents me with a fancy red bag with the Chinese character for tea on the front, containing teabags and information on the Body Shop’s commitment to trendy do-gooders helping the Third World.  Finally escaping the store, I flee to the Mid-Levels, safely beyond the reach of brand-name retail outlets.  It’s a jungle out there.

Mon, 9 Feb
Flicking through the
HK Standard, I note some changes since former editor Karl Wilson left.  Instead of editorials – so time-consuming to put together – the new leadership is providing readers with valuable insights into life today, thinly disguised as advertorials, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions…
Surely the prize for the most over the top [Valentine’s] celebration goes to the Peninsula Hotel and its Pen-Ultimate Experience.  For HK$50,000, you can treat your sweetie to a night in either the Peninsula, Marco Polo or Garden suite, complete with butler, a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce to and from home, and a candlelight dinner in your suite with a live jazz or classical trio to serenade you for the evening. The next day you can unwind with a private tai chi class, a luxurious facial and a helicopter tour of the city.
Not bad for HK$50,000.  Presumably, there are extras, like having to pay the Rolls-Royce chauffeur for the tunnel toll because you live on the island.  Not to mention the clean-up costs when your 'sweetie' vomits all over the helicopter – and which sensitive lady wouldn’t after having dinner the night before disturbed by a trio of musicians lurking in the corner of the room?  But for people who measure their partners’ love for them in dollars, hidden charges in the small print are a thing of joy.  Those of us who gauge our partners’ love for us by the amount of time they cease clinging and leave us alone will never understand.  Dorothy Parker said, "If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."   She should have said, "just look at the people he takes it away from in Hong Kong on 14 February."

Tue, 10 Feb
With the Big Boss out of town garrotting a Malaysian Chinese tycoon over an instant noodle manufacturing deal, I have a peaceful morning in Perpetual Opulence Mansions enjoying that perfect combination, a bowl of opium and the
HK Standard.  Peering through the drifting smoke at the silken pages, I find myself wondering – how can anyone complain when the world is so wonderful and bounteous?  After hinting to Hong Kong people that only Beijing can decide whether they can have democracy, the Central People's Government has had a change of heart and now invites the plucky little harbour folk to engage in in-depth discussions on matters of principle and procedure – generously allowing us to mull over the meaning of 'gradual and orderly progress' for as long as we please, or maybe even longer.  And for those of us who are shareholders of Sun Hung Kai and New World, even more goodies!  A multi-billion dollar windfall, after the Government hands over 2,450 never-occupied apartments for HK$1,800 psf to demolish and re-develop as HK$8,000 psf luxury housing.  But wait – as my favourite TV shows say – there's more.  Legislator Sophie Leung of the public-spirited Liberal Party is introducing a motion in the circus tomorrow on the subject of a border industrial zone.  Between exciting references to synergy, Sophie is offering an amazing deal.  If the people of Hong Kong give her and her friends from Shenzhen just a few billion dollars' worth of support, plus the right to import nice, sensible Mainland workers, they will build factories here, like we had in the 1970s, and possibly offer a few nostalgic Hongkongers some jobs as well.  And it goes on and on.  In the absence of Santa Claus or money growing on trees, can a world of greater munificence be imaginable?

Wed, 11 Feb
To Dr Barnabas Wu MB, ChB FRCP (Edin), to inform him that since vigorous exercise last Sunday, my back has been aching, and my right leg feels like someone has wrenched it out of its socket and stuck it back in the wrong way.  He thinks it might all be in my mind.  "What does this remind you of?" he asks, showing me a picture of a large black stain shaped exactly like a pendulous pair of women’s breasts.  "It reminds me of a Rorschach ink blot test," I tell him.  He scribbles down a note.  "Finish this sentence – If all the lawyers in Hong Kong spontaneously combusted…"  I take a deep breath.  "Um… we could toast marshmallows with them."  More note-taking.  He declares me to be in perfect mental health and starts roughly prodding my back and – even more discomforting – probing how exactly my injuries came about.  His questions become increasingly impertinent.  "How heavy did you say this girl was?" and "You did that
how many times in an afternoon?"  He makes more notes.  "Well of course you’re going to put your back out," he mutters with what I take to be a hint of jealousy.  "The human body’s just not designed to do that."  After confirming that I am insured, he flicks through a prescription drugs price list.  "Hmm, we’ll give you three types of pain killers, some antibiotics – don’t drink any alcohol for the next week…"  (They’re going straight in the bin.)  "…and this ointment.  It smells like a dead skunk, I’m told, and it stings terribly.  And no sex for a month."  Glancing round his office as I leave, I console myself with the thought that unlike his potted plants, I am still alive.
Thurs, 12 Feb
Bump into our bright-eyed Chief Secretary Donald Tsang taking an early morning stroll along Lower Albert Road.  I am delighted to note that his boyish demeanour and youthful enthusiasm have survived the shoddy treatment his Task Force on Constitutional Development received last weekend in Beijing.  It is good that someone can see the funny side of being made to wait three hours in a draughty corridor before being ushered in to see the Deputy Assistant Vice-Secretary of the third section of the Miscellaneous Affairs Bureau of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office – a 25-year-old who read out a haughty
statement blending the obvious with the oblique.  "They’re really scared that  we’ll declare independence and invade Shenzhen," Donald tells me.  "Who’d want it?" I joke.  He chuckles.  "Also, they’re petrified that we might undermine our capitalist system by voting for communists."   I nod sympathetically.  "Bottom line," he declares, "we must be run by patriots."  And what, I ask, defines a patriot?  "The 100-centimetre test!" he exclaims with a broad grin, producing a ruler and handing it to me.  He then opens his mouth and unrolls his shiny, pink tongue.  Measuring it, I find it can extend a full three and a half feet into the lower alimentary canal of a high-ranking Central People’s Government official.  Obviously, we are not all destined to be patriots.
Fri, 13 Feb
Arrive in the office unscathed.  A suicidal exam failure could have landed on my head as I left Perpetual Opulence Mansions.  A bus could have veered off the road and flattened me, its driver suddenly turned insane by a new virus spread through congee.  The Mid-Levels Escalator could have malfunctioned, tearing the limbs off hundreds of us – middle class office fodder, innocent young schoolchildren, Indonesian granny-walkers and their geriatric wards – our bodies all mangled up in the world’s longest continuous series of covered moving walkway disasters.  But nothing happened.  Instead, we have Ronnie Chan, former Enron director, boss of Hang Lung Properties and noted political philosopher dashing our hopes for universal suffrage by
telling us that having impure thoughts about the Chinese women’s volleyball team doesn’t make us true patriots.  His name is an anagram of 'Enron China'.  With some 12 hours of Friday the 13th to go, this is not a good omen.