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

11-17 July 2004

Mon, 12 July
The morning starts with a bang – the impact of the Big Boss’s fist on the table in the morning meeting.  The Chairman of S-Meg Holdings is breathing fire, upset that a lucrative deal has fallen through.  Despite all the shoe-shining and string-pulling, the arrangement – a tangle of friendly financing, co-production and exclusive rights spread around the Mainland, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia – has slipped away.  The Big Boss is sorely vexed.  In his day, Cantonese dealt with Cantonese, Hokkien with Hokkien, Chiuchow with Chiuchow.  Now, the younger generation do it by MBA class.  Number-One Son was supposed to join that club, but too much grinning, blinking, looking goofy and crashing his puce Lamborghini into fire hydrants sapped his mental powers.  Is there hope for this company?

Maybe, judging by the way people beg to see the Big Boss.  The bad news is that many of them are reporters for the overseas press, and therefore demented – or, at least, unfamiliar with the mystical ways of the exotic East.  This morning, we receive a vivacious American lady from a major news organization.  Three minutes into the interview, there is a knock on the conference room door.  Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary pokes her head in and announces in English that Tung Chee-hwa is on the phone.  The Big Boss has two options.  If the interview looks like being a pushover, he can ask Ms Fang to take a message, leaving the visiting journalist mightily impressed.  If the correspondent makes him feel uncomfortable, he can make his excuses and wriggle out of the interview with honour.  Judging the big-hair blonde American to be a bit of a lightweight, he tells his secretary he’ll call Tung back.  Ms Fang hisses at me, and I step outside to see what she wants.  “No,” she insists.  “Tung’s office really
is on the phone for him.”  Oh damn.  I run back in and tell the Big Boss it’s Really Urgent.  He gets the hint and leaves me with Barbarella.  “One warning,” I tell her before she starts asking me questions.  “Whenever an overseas reporter asks whether Hong Kong will be overtaken by Shanghai, we throw them out of that window.”  She nods and discreetly crosses something out in her notebook.  The other questions are little better.  A morning wasted.
Leafing through the latest issue of Spike magazine, I find a major expose, in which they reveal the ‘true story behind the intimidation of Albert Cheng and Wong Yuk-man’, the radio talk show hosts driven from the airwaves ‘with the full backing of China’.  They claim that ‘a prominent businessman with major entertainment interests and triad links … who cannot be named for legal reasons’ passed on a message to the two men from a senior Chinese official.  As no names are named, I lose interest and amuse myself by surfing the web at random.  To my delight, I find the Hello Kitty 30th anniversary logo, a charming photo of a wombat and a picture of my favourite Hong Kong movie star, Jackie Chan, with Emperor Group Chairman Albert Yeung and China’s Vice President Zeng Qinghong.
Tue, 13 July
Ma Lik and other sad members of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong – the ‘Losers’ Party’, for short – are creeping around the neighbourhood, distributing leaflets and proselytizing in a laughable attempt to get the Mid-Levels to vote for them in the September election.  Tarrying in Perpetual Opulence Mansions in order to avoid them, I flick through the previous week’s issue of
Spike before putting it into the gold-inlayed, camel leather binder in which I am faithfully storing every edition of this historic publication.  My eyes fall upon the ‘What’s Up Doc?’ column by one Brian Walker, which I do not normally read, and I note with dismay that he is peddling the silly myth that drinking distilled water leaches minerals from the body.  There are two possible explanations.  One, the quack is gullible or plain ignorant.  Two, he is in the pay of Evian or some other mineral water company.  Either way, the magazine should surely put some sort of legal disclaimer near the column advising readers to take the doctor’s advice with a pinch of sodium and other trace elements that keep Hongkongers’ bodies functioning perfectly despite the pints of Watson’s pure H2O everyone drinks every day, year after year after year. 

Wed, 14 July
Can any commentator in Hong Kong match the Solomonic wisdom of crusty veteran journalist Kevin Sinclair MBE?  I know of none.  The octogenarian Kiwi slaps some sound common sense into us in his
South China Morning Post column today, by spelling out the truth about people who get mugged in Shenzhen.  It’s their fault for being cheap scumbags and going there in the first place.  And as for the degenerates who meet with unpleasantness while indulging in undone flies/drunk at 3am/teenage girls-related pursuits and then flee back over the border to whine to Asia’s most intrepid police force…  Castration’s too good for them.  An excellent piece – even more thought-provoking than his recent demand that the Government build 20 cruise ship terminals around our harbour, and even more instructive than his call for the death penalty for people who go hiking in our country parks without adequate supplies.  And to think the SCMP still costs just HK$7!

On the subject of bargains, the wonderful thing about Cantonese cuisine is that the cheaper it is, the better it tastes.  For HK$18, I have an exquisite polystyrene bowl of
ho fun noodles, pork dumplings and greens in delicious broth, plus a big dollop of chili in oil (optional).  Eating this for lunch at my desk in S-Meg Tower, I wonder what the point is of abalone and all the other expensive variants of  mucus.

My thoughts are disrupted by a phone call from buxom Administrative Officer Winky Ip, asking what excitements I have experienced so far today.  “Well,” I tell her, “there were people collecting money for charity on the streets this morning.”  To my surprise, she finds this interesting.  “Yes, of course,” she replies, “it’s a ‘Non-Saturday Flag Day’ today.”  A what?  I poke fun at the way civil servants can spout ridiculous phrases without realizing how absurd they sound.  She is silent for a few seconds.  “Do you know what I have on my desk?” she asks coldly.  “I have a copy of the minutes of the last meeting of the Greater Pearl River Delta Business Council Sub-Group on Implementation of CEPA (Services).  If you’re not careful, I’m going to roll it up, come over to your office and beat you to death with it.”  I mumble sincere apologies.  I would have my boots on – but even so, that’s no way for a man to go.  Enraged civil servant slays respected expat with pointless document.  The Non-Saturday Flag Day massacre.

Thurs, 15 July
Yawning so widely that I could reach down into his throat and feel around in his stomach, wild American friend Odell sits outside the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee as day breaks, and decants two double espressos into a paper cup.  He looks barely awake.  “I see you had a restful night’s slumber,” I say cheerily.  He drowsily relates his sad tale.  Prised out of the pub in Lan Kwai Fong inebriated at 2am, he had stumbled home.  Coming out of the lift outside his flat, he somehow managed to drop his keys through the crack down into the elevator shaft.  He knocked on the apartment door but found that his wife Mee was still out with her Thai friends and not answering her mobile phone.  He sat down to wait for her to come back and eventually snoozed a bit.  At 5.30am his phone rang. 
Mee: “Where the hell are you?”
Odell: “Where the hell are you?”
Mee: “I’m at home waiting for you!”
Odell: “What do you mean – I’m at home waiting for you.  Listen.”  (Bangs on door.)  “That’s me.  I’m locked out.  Open the door and let me in.”
Mee (after a few seconds): “I’ve opened the door.  Where are you?”

Looking around, it dawned on Odell that he was one floor down from his apartment.  “She’d been home since 11pm and just woken up,” he tells me, full of self-pity.  I pat him on the shoulder.  “What terribly bad luck.” I tell him, putting on my best ‘I-deeply-and-sincerely-sympathize’ face.  “I’m sure it could happen to anyone.”
Fri, 16 July
The glorious motherland glows with pride as the Cato Institute
names Hong Kong the world’s freest economy.  Has anyone told the libertarian think tank that the public sector here supplies half our housing and more than 90 percent of our hospital care?  Haven’t they heard that our land is totally nationalized?  Don’t they know that wealth-creation here is burdened by cartels, organized crime, absurd restrictions on the use of land and buildings, and onerous regulation of many small business sectors?  Are they aware that the Government is allocating resources away from productive parts of the economy in order to subsidize money-losing ventures in technology, science, Traditional Chinese Medicine voodoo, logistics, tourism and – to their credit – the occasional Neil Young concert?  The Washington DC-based free market fans award second place to Singapore, a centrally planned socialist economy with a state-censored press monopoly.  New Zealand, the UK, the US, Australia, Canada and Ireland also rank highly – indeed, the only foreigners in the top 10 are Switzerland and plucky little Luxembourg.  I recall the Grand Duchy passing the Hemlock test of economic freedom many years ago when I was visiting and found to my delight that a 14-year-old could get away with buying beer.

Financial Secretary Henry Tang
welcomes the Cato Institute’s announcement, though I detect he is not boundlessly enthusiastic.  No doubt he is aware that this is the same Cato Institute that has named China a sponsor of terrorism and calls for heavy armament of Taiwan.
At 9.45am, our hard-working civil servants issue a warning that the Number 8 signal is likely to be hoisted within one or two hours.  I have already received five emails from people seeking or offering advice on where to seek emergency shelter and essential supplies if the approaching tropical cyclone, Kompasu, unleashes its deadly and devastating force on Hong Kong.  In the event of destruction and mayhem, my correspondents decide, everyone should make their way initially to a particular pub in Lan Kwai Fong, with the Foreign Correspondents Club as an emergency back-up.