The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
11-17 May 2003
|Sun, 11 May
A visit to a remote and forgotten part of the New Territories, to see the reclusive Walter W Wilde, Esq, the last colonial district commissioner in Hong Kong, whose python-management skills I so admire. After a mile-long trek through a mosquito-infested banana plantation, I know I am getting close when I spy half-naked, blue-eyed Chinese children running among the trees. Walter comes to meet me riding a water buffalo led by two toothless old women in black pyjamas and straw hats. He is wearing faded khaki shorts and waves a swagger stick as he barks orders in some obscure Hakka dialect. A delightful afternoon, with the villagers honouring what they believe is an official visit from the Queen's cousin by roasting a pig. "Don't you think you should tell them the British don't run Hong Kong anymore?" I ask as we sit on the verandah outside his converted cave, a young lady on her knees washing his feet. He frowns slightly, exhales a thin stream of opium smoke and stares silently at the freshly washed flag fluttering from the pole down in the village. I suppose that's a "no".
Mon, 12 May
Fungus-friendly weather puts a damper on the SARS mask fetish, and Honkongers expose the pallid lower halves of their faces to the outside world for the first time in weeks. Meanwhile, just when we don’t want to see another item of protective garb as long as we live, Hong Kong corners most of the world’s supply of medical gowns and shoe covers, as the Mainland authorities, the South China Morning Post’s fund-raising campaign and our very own, eager-not-to-be-left-out Government ship huge quantities of the things into town. The glorious motherland alone delivered 113,000 gowns (slightly moth-eaten) at the border to our visionary Chief Executive CH Tung, who looked slightly embarrassed – and who wouldn’t when accepting charity from the less well-off? It’s a bit like the time the little old lady next door emigrated to Canada and left me with 200 toilet rolls. All these gowns won’t go to waste. They’ll come in handy for next time, if we can find somewhere to store them.
Tue, 13 May
The annual Hongkongers-don’t-do-sex-much story hits the headlines – the first sign of the approaching summer news drought, when the media get desperate to fill space. Only 28% of Hong Kong married women enjoy sex, laments the SCMP. In my experience, they are far more eager and appreciative of physical attention than the data indicate, but of course I’m not their husbands. The famous Durex survey puts matters in a global perspective and raises all sorts of questions. Are Americans the most frequent liars? What do the Japanese do at night? And how are all these people around the world actually counting?
Obviously, on the extremely rare occasions that a civil servant is funny it must be by accident, as in the case of the pun I find in a Government paper on a proposal to charge truck drivers dumping building-renovation waste in landfills: “The demand for payment will be suspended if waste haulers have concrete evidence showing that they fail to collect the charges from the waste producers…” It won’t happen again for a long time.
Just when I thought it was safe to go out – Operation UNITE somehow bounces back to life, like a mutated virus immune to previous treatments. This time it is despatching cleanliness Nazis to cram Hygiene Charters down everyone's throats, whoever they are, wherever they are. There is no escape. This is the true cost and horror of SARS – the sudden profusion of groups and concerned citizens determined to foist "community spirit" and other alien concepts on our city of freedom-loving individualists with their long-cherished right not to give a rice grain-sized damn about irrelevant strangers and easily ignored neighbours.
Wed, 14 May
This just in. SCMP puts Hong Kong story in newspaper. Full details at 10. Our main English-language paper reports the death of a doctor from SARS on page one, in flagrant violation of its perverse editorial policy of putting local news in the entertainment and lifestyle section. Under the 10-week old policy – “our readers will find China fascinating if it’s the last thing we do” – the rag sees Tung Chee-hwa’s ramblings as “National”, and thus fit to appear in the actual newspaper, amid endless reports of speeches, infrastructure projects and bus crashes in parts of the Mainland not all SCMP readers can even pronounce. But trivial Hong Kong matters – the school system shutting down, security guards being murdered, babies being thrown from windows – are banished to a separate section along with movie stars and New Age gobbledegook. What a bind. How does the SCMP go back to covering its hometown properly and delivering the Mainland coverage its readers want (the less the better) without appearing unpatriotic? I will email the multitude of editors with the answer – “slowly, and without telling anyone”.
While the circus debates a motion calling for poor old CH Tung to resign, I flee to Silvermine Bay on Lantau Island to investigate rumours about an authentic Turkish restaurant. Although Mui Wo village is quiet and uncrowded, its population of eccentrics and social outcasts keeps the place interesting. A Texan on a unicycle guides me to the eatery, which is barely 100 yards from the ferry pier. Lamb kebabs, pitta bread, hummus, salad and a tangy chilli sauce not unlike harissa, put together by genuine Turks. Will go there again. Arriving back in Central, I look for signs that the Tung regime has been toppled in my absence. Victoria Prison stormed by peasants. The Liberal Party’s ridiculous James Tien forced to kneel on broken glass in Statue Square. Troops opening fire on peaceful protestors – a baby’s pram bouncing down the Mid-Levels escalator. However, it is not to be. Revolutionary ardour has been defused, it seems, by Chief Secretary/Street-Cleaner Donald Tsang’s even-handed defence of the crop-haired one: “Yes, he’s useless, and he depresses everyone, but you can’t seriously blame him for acts of nature, suicide rates and economic cycles.”
|Thurs, 15 May
Gliding down the escalator into Central, blowing my nose on an Operation UNITE Hygiene Charter, I find myself battling impure thoughts about Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash and Rihab Rashid Taha – the delectable Iraqi ladies, Mrs Anthrax and Dr Germ. At my suggestion, wild American friend Odell has put them on his website for perverts, in a special “Strong Women” section, which I am sure will pull in more business than his other dreary and predictable porn categories like nude Eskimo midgets posing, obese grandmothers frolicking, and Venezuelan transsexuals who have yet to complete their courses of genital reconstruction surgery standing around. Can I persuade our voluptuous dowager Secretary for Security Regina Ip to pose in one of her Iron Butterfly® brand bullet-proof brassieres? I'm sure she'd be game.
|Fri, 16 May
The number of big fish in the sea has fallen 90%, according to someone with the foresight and patience to have counted the miserable-looking creatures when they were at full strength. And whose fault is it? Bed-wetting environmentalists, clutching their stuffed toy bunny rabbits, naturally blame the human race for being stupid enough to invent nets, trawlers and refrigerated food transport systems. But surely the bulky, pouting piscines must take some of the blame? There are still millions of them out there, so the havoc they wreaked when there were 10 times as many must have been staggering. They would have ruthlessly slaughtered billions of innocent, smaller marine inhabitants – those of us who have dealt with sharks know that these unthinking brutes have absolutely no consideration for human life or the feelings of others. Nor do they have a conscience about the environment – and we can be sure they would have been defecating in massive quantities throughout the oceans, making Hong Kong’s output of raw sewage look like just a drop in the South China Sea. I look forward to discussing this with my hosts at next month’s World Conservation Union seafood buffet