Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
8-14 June 2003
Sun, 8 June
Originally barred for fears of SARS, disabled athletes from Hong Kong will now be
allowed to compete in the Special Olympics in Ireland.  What would gloriously undiplomatic Dublin journalist Mary Ellen Synon, who called the Paralympics "perverse", make of it?  "Surely," she wrote, "physical competition is … not about finding someone who can wobble his way around a track in a wheelchair, or who can swim from one end of a pool to the other by Braille," prompting a massive outbreak of Hibernian mouth-frothing and winning a gold medal for career prospects reduction.

Mon, 9 June
Some people start the week
stunned to learn of cannibalism in North Korea.  Others are shocked – shocked! – to read that Bank of China (HK) officials and clients are allegedly corrupt (in the Big, innocent-until-proved-guilty Lychee), or undoubtedly so (in the glorious motherland).  For me, today’s astounding revelation strikes while gliding into Central on the escalator.  Ladies’ buttocks have suddenly become unmistakably more ample.  Are very tight pants “in”?  Or has Mid-Levels womanhood put on a few pounds over the last few months, cooped up indoors and avoiding SARS-ridden gyms?  A call from fragrant socialite and art gallery owner Rosabelle Lam (“drinky-poos tonight dahling!”) reveals all.  “It’s fat,” she confirms.  “You should see the she-elephants in my yoga class!  All the girls blame SARS – they say it’s been worse than Christmas.”
The humid air is thickened with rumours about Chau Ching-ngai, Chairman of Shanghai Land.  Some say he has borrowed RMB10 billion from Shanghai’s highly respected financial institutions.  Others say he is refusing to answer interrogators’ questions, believing that friends in Very High Places Indeed will spring him, lest he tells all. The murky links between Shanghai government, banks and tycoons shock those mesmerised by the Yangtze River Delta-leaves-Hong Kong-in-the-dust story.  As ever, I will buy that tale when I see Hong Kong girls going to Shanghai to work as prostitutes.  So far, the flow is in the other direction, with even their senior bankers coming here to sell themselves.
Tue, 10 Jun
Several pounds of oranges met a sudden and unseemly demise on Queens Road this morning, judging by the brightly coloured and aromatic pile of pulp I step over near Peddar Street.  You never see flattened animals in Hong Kong, just squashed fruit.  Buddhist-friendly roadkill.

Is anything more tedious than the national security legislation required by Article 23 of the Basic Law?   Hong Kong’s leading bores are at loggerheads – the bill is either the end of civilization as we know it, or nowhere near tough enough.  “Hong Kong loses its rights and freedoms,”
wails Democratic Party founder Martin Lee, whose attention-seeking and exaggeration are as self-defeating and embarrassing as ever.  Pro-Beijing commentator Lau Nai-keung complains the proposed laws are “a retreat from existing legislation … Surely [Beijing] would prefer to stick to the existing – and stricter – colonial-era laws.”  Both are calling on our bold and decisive Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to drop the bill – evidence, should the crop-haired one have the wit to use it, that it is probably harmless and can be passed and left to gather dust on lawyers’ shelves.
Wed, 11 June
The maladies
du jour are monkeypox and anthrax.  To strengthen my immune system, I linger in bed later than usual.  By the time I leave, the two Filipino elves have arrived and are hard at work, keeping the Hemlock Wing of Perpetual Opulence Mansions in good order.  They have brought with them the Virgin Mary – a huge statue, at least three feet tall, shiny and painted in garish colours.  It probably glows in the dark, and, for all I know, the eyes flash if you plug it in.  They have joined a sinister-sounding Holy Roman cabal, which requires its adherents to carry this hideous idol around.  It also bans them from wearing short skirts or shorts, though that might just be personal – it’s certainly no great loss to admirers of the human form.  I have always had a soft spot for the Blessed Virgin.  Any single girl who can think up such a far-fetched explanation for her pregnancy and get away with it in such style has – to use her latter-day, Eastern European, co-religionists’ phrase – chutzpah.  But there are limits. “You are taking that grotesque thing away later, aren’t you?” I ask as I leave.

More chutzpah.  Property developers Chinachem announce that they are targeting customers with personal wealth of “between HK$800 million-1 billion” for the vast toilet they have seen fit to build at 129 Repulse Bay Road.  At a hoped-for HK$30,000 per sq ft, a basic, 1,715 sq ft apartment will go for US$6.4 million, which the company probably believes strikes the right balance between making this architectural jewel accessible, while keeping the riffraff out.  Or should that be “in”?  It’s for ill-shaven peasants with gold watches, white Rolls-Royces and money on which the ink is barely dry.
Thurs, 12 Jun
There are eight million stories in the naked city.  Eight million tawdry tales, here in the Gotham of South China – and wild American friend Odell is responsible for more than a few of them.  Early this morning, I find him leaning back against the railings at the western end of a stretch of walkway over Hollywood Road, watching the office fodder start their daily migration downhill.  It’s his birthday, and on this day – and this day only – every year, the sun rises in exactly the right spot to cast its rays straight between the buildings and down the walkway, revealing the shapely thighs, calves and other curves of young ladies wearing loose, thin clothes.  He is not in the mood for celebration.  Since his misfortune with the female taxi driver and the hamster, his Thai wife Mee has only once let him out after dark.  “Do you know there are hookers from Cameroon in Wanchai?” he asks.  Mildly surprised, I raise an eyebrow.  “Asia’s world city,” I shrug – “I wonder what story they give the immigration officers.”  He thinks about it.  “I reckon they’re under orders to let them in with no hassle,” he says.  “Anything to get some money circulating.” There’s a story –
The Velocity of Money, in which African ladies of the night rescue the naked city from the clutches of deflation.

With reluctance and disdain, I attend the S-Meg Holdings Annual Dinner, postponed from March. A waste of an evening.  Entering the hotel ballroom, I see the rank and file staff have already been playing mahjong for three hours.  In the centre is the Head Table, for the Big Boss, directors and honoured guests.  Around it are tables for alphas, including the company gwailo.  Beyond are tables for betas and gammas, with deltas and, ultimately, epsilons consigned to the far ends of the hall, where they will be chained to benches and eat from troughs.  Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary mounts a stage with a microphone and curtly announces the start of the banquet. Taking my seat, I wonder whether I was a Nazi death camp commander in a previous life.  Why else would fate put me next to Ms Doris Pang, our gruesome human resources manager?  She enquires solemnly whether I can use chopsticks.  “Better than you can use a knife and fork, you loathsome hag,” I consider replying, knowing her to be one of those pitiful inadequates who hold a knife like a pen.  Standard fare – jellyfish, suckling pig, shark’s fin, drunken chicken, broccoli with scallops, fish, noodles, fried rice, red bean soup and fruit garnished with frozen carbon dioxide – all served in rapid and sullen succession.  The Big Boss arrives during the third course and rises to leave as soon as dessert is served. He calls me over to nag me about nothing much, and I take the opportunity to accompany him out and thus escape. He is oblivious to his employees as he sweeps past them. They, however, stare in awe.  The man they usually see only in newspapers or gossip magazines, in the flesh.  And, for those who don’t work at head office – the rumours are true!  He has a gwailo working for him.  They will tell their grandchildren one day.

Fri, 13 June
A bad day for sufferers of
paraskavedekatriaphobia, but a good one for me, as the Big Boss is away.  I can spend time considering how much I hate marketing.  An email invites me to End septic tank issues for ever! And what is there to say about the cretin who wrote the copy for an ad in today’s paper for a timepiece that not only manages to look both bland and tacky, but – if the hype is to believed – doesn’t even work… 
“Officine Panerai: A workshop that transforms ideas into watches that defy time.”