Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
10-16 August 2003
Sun, 10 Aug
Hong Kong mouth-froths its way through the long, hot summer.  For the gwailos, the outrage
du jour is the latest use of Nazi symbolism in marketing, this time by fashion chain izzue, which has the privilege of having actress Maggie Cheung as its "image consultant".  From memory... TVB tried selling airtime this way a while ago (“the final solution” to advertisers’ problems), Pacific Coffee featured one of Hitler’s musings on its quote-of-the-day blackboard, and a Cantopop retard whose name escapes me published pictures of himself dressed in Wehrmacht garb.  Coke was criticised for a supposedly Nazi (let alone bare-breasted) robot. And there will be more. Westerners learn virtually no Asian history at school, yet expect average Hongkongers to
distinguish Nazis from Klingons or the Jedi.  Meanwhile, down the hill from Perpetual Opulence Mansions, mouths are frothing about an unspeakable horror local people can relate to – frozen chicken.  Ever since Hong Kong halted avian flu through its own mass-gassing programme in 1998, hygiene fanatics have called for an end to the slaughtering of poultry in urban street markets.  Personally, I rather enjoy helping 82-year-old Mrs Tsui dispatch a few chickens from time to time at her stall down by Hollywood Rd.  There is something satisfying about the slightly "crunchy" feel as the little curved razor cuts through the bird's feather-clad neck, while the customer looks on, salivating in anticipation of an ultra-fresh dinner.  I will make a point in future of telling the customers that Hitler was a vegetarian – that will leave them in no doubt about the evils of Nazism.

Tuesday, 12 Aug
Start the day switching on the radio in a semi-awake state, vaguely recollecting a late-night snack of Gorgonzola.  “A palatial mansion expected to house Hong Kong’s outgoing Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa during his exile in Nigeria is ready for his arrival,” says a BBC accent. “Tung, who handed over power on Monday in Victoria to his deputy, Donald Blah, boarded a plane at the airport yesterday sporting sunglasses.  With his portly wife at his side, he announced, ‘God willing, I will be back.’  Hongkongers, many high on drugs, were dancing in the streets, firing guns and shouting ‘no more monkey’ at the news that the hated strongman has finally fled, after months of extreme local and international pressure and widespread chaos throughout the land.” That reminds me, Graham Greene’s classic on Liberia,
Journey Without Maps, sits on my bookshelves, begging to be re-read. 

On the subject of travel, wanderers return.  First, a call from defrocked Mormon missionary friend Odell, announcing that he and his wife Mee are back from their trip to Thailand. Much moaning about holes in roads, poor sewerage, corrupt police, avaricious in-laws, food poisoning and other charming features of the Land of Smiles. There is no better advertisement for Hong Kong than most other parts of Asia.  Take poor Shanghai, where
buildings collapse above flooded subway tunnels and 1,000 companies are having electricity rationed – this is the city that’s going to “take over” from Hong Kong.  Of course, some people like Third World dumps.  The Big Boss returns from his impulsive trip to Jakarta in a good mood, distributing coconut candy to the secretaries and grinning smugly in the morning meeting.  His last foray in Indonesia yielded S-Meg Holdings a durian-flavoured chewing gum factory, which was passed on at a healthy mark-up to another tycoon within weeks.  Whatever doctors say about their eyesight, the Cantonese can spot a fast buck at a thousand yards through thick smoke, of the sort produced by a suicide bomb outside the Jakarta Marriott.  The distressed asset he picked up over the weekend obviously came at a sudden discount.  “It’s like taking coconut candy from a baby,” his self-satisfied smile assures us.

Wed, 13 Aug
Tag along with the Big Boss on a courtesy visit to the One Country Two Systems Research Institute – the politically correct think-tank that cadges donations from tycoons, for whom giving away money is a patriotic pleasure.  Unfazed by the presence of a gwailo factotum, the researchers brief us on their achievements and point to an
exhaustive list of billionaire shoe-shiners – they’ve hardly missed anyone.  The Big Boss fails to get the hint and shows little interest in joining such esteemed company.  Much of the Institute’s work comprises desperate attempts to prove a point, such as drivel about integrating “Chinese medicine” with HK’s science-based variety.  But it’s not all cretinous.  They have sound ideas on de-licensing cross-border car traffic.  They are particularly proud of their press cuttings library, housed in an impressive array of filing cabinets.  Invited to name a subject, I suggest “democracy”.  The librarian opens a drawer marked “Gwailo Stuff” and reads out the labels as she sifts through the files. “Potato consumption, homosexuality, anthropomorphism, obesity, academic underachievement, rudeness, body hair, childhood unruliness, AIDS, alcohol … ah! Democracy,” she announces, flourishing a sheaf of press clippings.  Flicking through lurid accounts of the horror that is the Philippine political system, I catch the Big Boss looking at his watch.  Their half hour is up. Time to head back to S-Meg Tower and reality.
Thurs, 14 Aug
En route to the office, I see Odell in the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee.  He is waiting for the Body Shop to open.  “Mee wants me to get…” he pulls a piece of paper from his pocket “…raspberry, cumin and barley elbow moistener.”  I suggest he try the bizarrely named Fancl House next door, but he dismisses the idea.  “Fancl products are for brain-dead bimbos.  Thai girls like Body Shop.”  He’s probably right about Fancl.  Look at the customers – simpering Canto-princesses who stamp their feet when their spotty and otherwise tragic boyfriends don’t spend enough money on them.  We sip guava yoghurt and contemplate the secretaries, accountants and HR assistants marching to work.  Shiny black hair sways, shiny black bra straps peek from blouses, shiny black stockings glint in the sunlight reflected off the tower blocks.  “Wow – look at that,” says Odell, nudging me. A white woman walks past holding hands with a slightly shorter Chinese man, both around 30 or so. “Should’ve brought my camera –
Apple Daily would run it.”  Thus we re-visit
an age-old conundrum – why Western girl-Asian guy pairings are so rare.  Oblivious of the blonde sitting on the nearby settee, we recite the numerous reasons why the Western female is so unappealing and disagreeable compared with her Oriental sister.  After several minutes, just as we are about to address the issue of gwaipos’ over-assertiveness and bad language, a magazine hits the table with an exasperated thwack and a throat clears.  “Excuse me, you two fuckwits.” A pair of cold blue eyes glares at us.  “Get this. What you call ‘western women’ want, and expect, men who listen to them when they talk about their feelings.”  Odell is dumbstruck.  I act cool.  “Umm…” I try to sound reasonable “…why?”   Looking at me incredulously, Ms Blonde mouths the word “what?”  Odell gathers his thoughts.  “So that explains it,” he says.  “Obviously no guy wants to put up with that if he has a choice.”  Open-mouthed, our detractor turns away, slings her bag over her shoulder and departs, muttering “Jesus H Christ.”  Odell grimaces as she leaves the store. "Chunky thighs, too,” he murmers. Maybe Fancl have something for that.

Mass hysteria breaks out in Central around lunchtime, with people cheering, dancing and hugging and kissing each other in celebration of Turkey’s
eagerly awaited decision to lift its travel advisory on Hong Kong.  Where Turkey goes, others surely follow.

Fri, 15 Aug
Feeling a touch of haemorrhagic dengue fever coming on, I call in sick and catch up on mail that arrived while I was on my Filial Piety tour last month.  My heart sinks as I open a green envelope and find a salaries tax demand.  Will these overpaid, public-sector scum never go away?  Just months after I shovelled my hard-earned wealth into the gaping state maw, they’re back.  In an almost identical green envelope, a begging letter from a charity with a perverse sense of humour.  Next, in a yellow envelope, a cheque from the Government for HK$3,000 – a microscopic rebate on last year’s tax.  To punish our small- and medium-size enterprises for being tedious, I will spend it in Shenzhen – but on what?  I am tempted to invest in asbestos gloves.  I will then be able to grasp a pair of red-hot pliers, with which I will pull out the tongue of the next Government official to express an intention to “enhance communication” (or “convince you I am correct, so shut up”, as Wally Wilde’s illuminating
HK Officialese-English dictionary would explain, had the phrase been current when we were under the heel of British colonialists and their running dogs).  Next is an electricity bill, already opened and paid by dutiful Filipino elves.  Then there is an update on my stock portfolio, reminding me of my genius in buying shares in Cathay, SHK and Giordano at the height of the SARS scare.  They are up 50% already – even sooner than I thought.  I am reminded of running dog Donald Tsang’s expression – “no-one ever made any money betting against Hong Kong”.  At the bottom of the pile is a pulp romance fiction, A Stranger’s Kiss, which will incur a fine for a Filipino elf if it is not returned to the library in City Hall by tomorrow – I will brave the mobs of lepers waving their limb-stumps in people’s faces outside the Star Ferry and drop it off this afternoon.  An interesting question – how are we supposed to give alms to these poor wretches?  With no fingers, they can’t pick up coins from the ground.  With no hands, they can’t take hold of anything.  Maybe we are supposed to balance the cash on their wrists.  Or do they expect paper money, which they can clench between their teeth?