Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat

9-15 February 2003
Sun, 9 Feb
Walking past Shang Hi! restaurant in Soho, I note their amusing attempt to live down the scathing review they received from the food critic at the
South China Morning Post. They've written a ridiculous piece of gushing PR drivel showering the gloomy, overpriced place and its inauthentic fare with ludicrously unconvincing, purple-prose praise. Then they've stuck a copy of the SCMP masthead on the top, and displayed the result in the window, next to a genuine and glowing review from a less fastidious Chinese-language newspaper.  I only tried the place once – with Jenny, the girl from Beijing-but-she's-got-an-American-passport.  I especially recall the beef, orange peel and chilli dish because, while we were halfway through eating it, she mentioned that she had been a Communist Party member.  A passion-killing moment.  The manager was one of those immensely irritating restrauteurs who insist on moving things around on your table to be “helpful”, oblivious to the fact that the diners are capable of positioning drinks and bowls where they see fit, and are, anyway, having a heated if intimate discussion about the impropriety of non-platonic relationships between lovers of freedom and former card-carrying supporters of murderous, totalitarian regimes.
Mon, 10 Feb
Festivities over, numbing normalcy returns.  Office fodder, many warding off the biting 58F chill with pirated brand-name padded winter jackets, glide smoothly down the Mid-Levels Escalator after their New Year trips to whatever the new Bali is. Schoolchildren in freshly pressed uniforms plod past them up the hill, their faces displaying varying degrees of brain cell-possession and general eagerness to get back to the classroom.  The foundations of S-Meg Tower tremble as, 20 storeys up, the Big Boss slams the table with his fists during the morning meeting, his bout of brain damage just weeks before having proved all-too temporary.  Outdated superstitions clash, as local feng shui fraudsters react with fury to the Catholic Church’s
criticism of New Age baloney, which it sees as a threat to its own, 2,000-year-old nonsense.  “Our baloney is 5,000 years old,” the gemoancers say.  And the Democratic Party produces some thin proposals on immigration.  Policy formation by HK political parties is awkward and unconvincing, like a new-born deer trying to walk, staggering around as its spindly legs give way and it slumps to the ground with a stupefied look on its face.  I will email their forceful and visionary boss, Yeung Sum, a word of mild encouragement, as a doe licks the afterbirth off a fawn.
Tue, 11 Feb
Bump into Winky Ip, my favourite Administrative Officer, jogging along Lower Albert Road – unfortunately in baggy, Taliban-approved, buxomness-obscuring sportswear – before doing her regular 14-hour day in Central Government Offices. After the success of her
anti-nose-picking campaign last year, Winky is now masterminding a new HK$75 million publicity drive to stop pushing and shoving in elevators, public transport and queues for stylish Hello Kitty accoutrements. “It’s part of the World City thing,” she explains. “We want people to act more considerately – not barging into MTR carriages before others get out, not closing lift doors before others get in.  The message is… Be patient.  Think of others.”  I give her an incredulous stare.  “Why?” I ask. “Why should people, who have things to do, ‘wait’ for others?  The ‘others’ should be quicker – I’m not hanging around all day because of them.”  She will take great pleasure brainwashing that sort of attitude out of me, she says as she trots off grinning.  The girl’s mad.  This is Hong Kong.  Every second counts!
An email from Morris, the greatest living Scotsman in the Hong Kong Police, currently on leave in Kuwait, preparing to serve queen and country.  What the hell is Belgium, he asks, and where is it?  Like him, I had never heard of the place until yesterday, when it appeared from nowhere to veto NATO plans to help Turkey protect itself from Iraqi attacks. I thought it was a Japanese brand of feminine hygiene products. After consulting my Times Atlas, I find that it is an obscure country near Luxembourg.  Further research shows it to be a hotbed of culinary perversions, notably cherry-flavoured beer and French fries with mayonnaise.  This nonentity of a place also contrived to drag the UK, and by extension the rest of the Anglosphere, into the horrors of World War One.  It has a lot to answer for.  As Morris eloquently puts it “we should duff them one.”
Wed, 12 Feb
Chicken congee – complete with claw lurking at the bottom – and fried noodles for breakfast at Yuet Yuen.  Not the cleanest restaurant in Hong Kong, or even the neighbourhood, it’s probably true.  But if
diarrhoea protects against colon cancer, this may not be a bad thing. It could actually be a selling point. The Government could issue stickers for restaurant windows – a picture of a happy, smiling E. Coli bug saying “Only narrowly passed by keen-eyed Food and Environmental Hygiene Dept inspectors”. The FEHD needs something useful to do, judging by their latest “are you a total moron?” quiz.
What future generations will call The Great Vinegar Drought of 2003 breaks out, following panic-buying by the lower orders, who imagine that boiling acetic acid wards off the pestilence now spreading into Hong Kong from the disease-ridden Dark Province.  Shouldn’t mock their ignorance.  In his 1481 diary, Nat Hemlocke mentions stuffing garlic cloves down his britches. More to the point, my shares in Mightythrust Condiments have gone up 250% since I bought them a week ago when I heard the first reports of Dongguan factory workers dying after black, pus-filled boils in their armpits burst.  Will sell today.

The 100 most intelligent people in Hong Kong, plus some slightly dim friends who know about sport, are left frustrated by the lack of an outlet for their brilliance after the Foreign Correspondents Club Quiz is cancelled at the last minute. My team relieves the pressure by spending the evening testing each other on medieval torture methods, gnus, cognitive dissonance and
Ben Franklin.

Thurs, 13 Feb
survey by gwailos-in-suits lobby, the HK General Chamber of Commerce, shows the public-sector scum to be paying themselves up to 229% more than their private-sector counterparts – the reason our reserves are melting away before our eyes, and the most blatant wealth-grab since the days of property developers’ 50% profit margins.  The pathetic wimps then suggest a pitiful 6% pay cut.  Still, at least the Chamber seems to have overcome its bizarre fixation with the unworkable and absurd idea of a “free trade” agreement between Hong Kong and the centrally-planned Mainland.  Supported by befuddled old Tung Chee-hwa, the now-renamed “closer economic partnership” proposal gets the short shrift it deserves in Beijing, where officials are tiring of China’s richest city constantly asking for favours and privileges because its bloated government and cartels want it to be the early 1990s for ever and ever.
Fri, 14 Feb
VD.  Singles Awareness Day.  On the Mid-Levels escalator this morning I am mobbed by desperate women, mostly in their late 20s- early 30s and thus doomed to die single, let alone dine solo tonight.  Messages in the
SCMP suggest they are luckier than they know. “The Day I met you was the day I opened the book of love,” writes Tom to Loretta.  “Our hands entwined 5 years ago, you wished thru the ages we’d stay holding so,” writes S to M.  This air motion discomfort receptacle’s full – pass another.