Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong’s most obnoxious expat

11-17 August, 2002
Sun, 11 Aug

A soiree at the home of fragrant socialite and art gallery owner Rosabelle Lam. Rosabelle contrives to inform everyone that she is having her period – her most desperate attempt so far to convince people she is a good decade younger than is actually the case.  To redress the balance, I tell guests that our hostess can recall having to bow to Japanese soldiers on the streets when she was a schoolgirl.

Find myself stuck with a retired Hong Kong accountant and a Russian pretending to be Australian.  While they vie to be the least interesting guest, I try the excellent pashmina curry ("very fresh", according to Rosabelle) and knock back a few durian-infused vodkas, flicking bits of the latter at the candles floating in the swimming pool in an attempt to liven things up. I am not altogether unhappy to be dragged away by Rosabelle doing her "there's someone I want you to meet" routine. "If she has more than six pairs of shoes and/or handbags, I'm not interested," I insist.  Rosabelle's grip on my arm tightens. "She's not from Hong Kong," she hisses, implicitly confirming my fears, and raising nightmarish ones about being fixed up with Imelda Marcos.  As it happens, I find myself introduced to one Jenny, a pleasant looking lady from that strange land known as "Beijing-but-I've-got-an-American-passport".  Intelligent, funny and capable of original thought.  And of extreme self-control
: during two hours with me she resists all temptation to initiate physical contact – a feat that few women can accomplish.  Very impressive. There must be a catch.

Note the Nepalese chef putting a perk – the severed head of a Himalayan mountain goat – into a Park n Shop bag as I leave.  If Rosabelle says the curry is fresh, it is.

Tue, 13 Aug

One reliable source of amusement is the way government departments cancel out one another’s work.  For example, department X saves money through voluntary redundancies of typists, while department Y "creates jobs" by hiring dozens of people to scrub sidewalks with toothbrushes. And it’s about to happen again.  One part of the administration has decided that the next Big Thing is to be nice to our tax-paying, disenfranchised middle class – without whom that bloated civil service would go unpaid, the rabble in the housing estates would go unsubsidised, and the cartels would have only tourists to rip off.  With kids to feed and mortgages to pay, they could use help – and, indeed, they get it, usually from Southeast Asia.  Meanwhile, another part of the government is wetting itself more than ever about unemployment among local domestic helpers, and is considering a tax on employing foreign amahs.  However, only the latter, who live in, can free up Mrs Middle Class so she can work outside the home.  Take the HK$2,000 a month Indonesians out of the picture and – who knows? – maybe the whole economy collapses. Consider tipping off Donald Tsang, who is specifically responsible for avoiding such contradictory policies, but decide against it.  I need the entertainment.
Wed, 14 Aug

Write a letter of congratulations to Nestle, the producer of unpleasant foodstuffs for the lower orders, and to PCCW, no-hope telecoms ex-monopoly, for so imaginatively dealing with those
anti-science, scare-mongering self-publicists from Greenpeace.  When gorgeously sexy activist Luisa Tam took a petition against genetically modified food, along with her resplendent hairdo and 11 reporters, to the Nestle offices in PCCW Tower, the security guards cleverly switched the lift off, trapping the hapless victims between floors for a few minutes.  She is threatening to sue, which suggests an unfortunate lack of a sense of humour.  Perhaps one day it will be possibe for environmentalists to be genetically modified to see the funny side of things. 
Thur, 15 Aug

Rumours are flying around that the "jobs for the boys" or "golden parachute" system of giving top positions in quasi-public-sector institutions to civil servants or other favourites is to go.  I personally have doubts that we will start seeing non-local faces at the top of the Stock Exchange, the Mandatory Provident Fund Authority, the Airport Authority, the railways, etc, etc. A typical way of filling such positions is:
1. Decide to give the job to X, a soon-to-retire civil servant in want of a highly paid position.
2. Ask headhunters to do an executive search for candidates with qualities A, B and C (the prime of which is experience of the regulatory system overseeing the corporation); "Chinese language would be useful" and communication skills are a must.
3. Headhunters find candidates V, W, X, Y and Z.  V is an overseas Chinese academic, sadly lacking quality A.  W is from the local business community, sadly lacking quality B.  Y is perfect, except he has terrible communication skills.  Z is also perfect, but can't speak Chinese.
4. X gets the job, and yet another institution pays five times what its counterpart in London or New York pays for a boss whose lack of aptitude becomes apparent as fast as you can say "world city".

Oh great.  The Big Boss tells me in mid-afternoon to go to Shenzhen. "Now."  There goes the weekend