Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
13-19 April 2003
Sun, 13 Apr
The Sunday
Morning Post has gone up to HK$8, which would be auspicious but for the rumours that it will soon cease publication.  The big non-SARS story is the water monitor, which sounds like a piece of plumbing equipment, or perhaps the title bestowed on the teacher's pet in a dusty Saharan school, but is actually a 6-foot lizard invading the New Territories. Six-foot lizards have long been common in Central, notably around Exchange Square and Lan Kwai Fong.  Now it's Tai Po's turn.  In my experience, the four-footed reptiles are quite amiable, but, being cursed with inelastic lips that suggest a cold-blooded and malevolent personality, they frighten SCMP reporters, who claim that they "could pose a danger to humans".  Ever-gullible, the rag also reports a "leaked" Cathay Pacific Airways memo warning that the company might ground its passenger fleet because of SARS – a naked ploy to soften up employees or extract favours from our panicky Government.

Lunch with Polly the lipstick lesbian at a Shanghainese place in Causeway Bay, after which she drags me off to a disco – a dark, noisy and crowded basement in Wanchai.  She tries to get picked up by boyish-looking Indonesian women, while I watch Filipinas indulge in the peculiar habit of admiring themselves in the mirrors on the wall while dancing.  After half an hour, she introduces me to her catch – a hermaphrodite called Dinny who speaks Cantonese but no English and eyes me suspiciously.  They leave – for Polly's place, presumably. Chat with Filipinas wearing huge platform shoes, cheap perfume and far too many rings.  Can we ditch the small talk?  No? OK, can't be bothered.  Go home alone.  I must be getting middle-aged.
Mon, 14 Apr
While many Hongkongers wear pointless masks, live in morbid fear of doorhandles and defer to the informative Government leaflet
Let’s Go Totally Apeshit About SARS, an unflappable Big Boss departs on his latest business trip.  It takes more than minor apocalyptic calamities like war and plague to keep him from jetting around.  Thus, a week of goofing-off for the company gwailo – what shall I do?  I could raid
Wellcome supermarket, banish the Filipino elves, unplug the phone and become the hermit slob of Perpetual Opulence Mansions, living on a diet of Meltykiss chocolate, Korean instant noodles and Zhujiang beer, listening to obscure psychedelic music and catching up on hilarious clip art.  But several years of that at university was enough.  I could get out of town – go to Thailand, and avoid Rosanna Wong’s morale-boosting, grand, city-wide clean-up planned for Easter weekend.  But we are lepers now. Visitors from pestilential Hong Kong must undergo ritual humiliation in Bangkok airport arrivals hall, where they stand with their trousers around their ankles, being examined by impertinent quarantine inspectors.  Let their
tourism industry rot and their womenfolk clamour to wash dishes in Amoy Gardens!  The default option is to turn up at work, which would please the Big Boss when he phones from afar – he seems to imagine that being on the payroll somehow obliges me to hang around S-Meg Tower a lot.  That’s what I’ll do.  I must be getting middle-aged – two days in a row.

An unfortunate organizer of the Easter weekend city-wide clean-up drops by my office.  Can't help overhearing his phone conversation.  "Operation Unite?" he shouts. "Upper-case 'UNITE'.  OK.  Yes that's certainly a vapid name.  Should be fine. Now, what about the opening ceremony. Will it be childish enough?  It will?  Good. What about the publicity materials – they
will be patronising and condescending, won't they?  I mean, seriously intelligence-insulting?  Good. Fine."
Tue, 15 April
Reading the
HK Standard’s editorial while munching on Meltykiss chocolates, I am dismayed to encounter, yet again, the tired HK-Government-as-frozen-rabbit-caught-in-headlights cliché.  Our leadership is not a transfixed rodent. It is deranged and hyperactive, like a rabid dog or a sheep with scrapie, worrying the rest of us with its sudden and unpredictable twists and turns and its inability to sit still and act calmly. Will send our excitable Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa a box of Meltikiss chocolates.  So soothing – better than opium!
After nagging me to get married for several years, is my Shanghai lawyer actually trying to fix me up?  Call him.  He tells me to relax – his “inconsiderate, introverted and hot-tempered” millionaire client advertising anonymously for a bride is a local, he says, and has been married before. He says more than 1,000 women have indicated interest.  We are all prostitutes, are we not?

Another visit from the luckless organizer of Operation UNITE, the city-wide, anti-SARS clean-up planned for the weekend.  “I can’t stand this much more,” he complains.  “Why does the establishment in Hong Kong always think they have to treat the public like idiotic infants?  This campaign is supposed to raise morale.  Here, have a T-shirt.  And some stickers.  Do you want a CD of the official theme song?”  I try to hide my disdain as I look at the giveaways.  “You’re wrong,” I tell him, “It’s like those official campaigns. Wash your vegetables. Look after your old folk. Don’t stand under landslides when it rains. It’s all the same message – ‘You are children.  We’re in charge.’ Nothing to do with morale-boosting.”  He shrugs as he leaves. “They pay bloody well.”

Wed, 16 Apr
A call from the Operation UNITE organizer, waiting to push the button and unleash his hastily arranged morale-boosting campaign on our SARS-wracked populace, who will surely know better than to pay attention.  His next project, he says, also has a connection to the spread of a disease – “viral marketing”, he calls it.  It’s to do with weblogs.  It seems that PR floozies and marketing lowlifes are increasingly
approaching bloggers and offering them sex, money or whatever it takes to slip subtle endorsements of products into their tedious on-line journals and other electronic navel-gazing media.  “Are any on-line writers so scummy that they would stoop that low?”  I ask.  He admits he’s not sure.  I find it extremely hard to believe.
On the subject of omphaloskepsis, I am delighted to find that the strange little granules of dark and probably carcinogenic matter that accumulate in my belly button have completely disappeared since I started eating a box of Meltykiss chocolates every day.  And my hair has become so shiny that delectable female office fodder need to wear sunglasses to mentally undress me while gliding down the Mid-Levels Escalator in the mornings.  Most of all, doctors say that none of the unfortunates who have so far died of SARS had been consuming a daily box of Meltykiss before infection.  Not just tasty, but positively life-enhancing!

Thurs, 17 Apr
“Do you know of a blackspot that needs targeting in this weekend’s cleanups?” asks the
SCMP.  Wading to work knee-deep in sputum-stained surgical masks, Leslie Cheung suicide notes and empty Meltykiss boxes, none come to mind.  But it’s good to see everyone rallying round.  Leading banana Christine Loh has launched a SARS campaign called Fear Busters, with representatives from Stanley, Lan Kwai Fong and Discovery Bay.  Add the Mid-Levels, and she’s got things covered.  Even investment bankers are doing their bit to boost morale, with a Morgan Stanley genius emerging from a midnight session with a bottle of tequila and a ouija board telling us unemployment could hit 10.6%.  Not 10.5.  Not 10.7. How can Hong Kong fail with economists so precise and attentive to detail?

A call from Winky Ip, the most buxom Administrative Officer in Central Government Offices.  “You’re in trouble," she says reproachfully.  “Mrs [Betty] Tung was just here, asking which floor of S-Meg Tower you’re on.  She says you’ve been bad-mouthing Operation UNITE.”  I try not to laugh.  “Not really,” I say.  “Just a bit of constructive criticism.  Anyway, what’s she going to do about it?”  Silence.  “Ummm… I can see her out of my window,” says Winky.  “She’s heading towards Battery Path.  Assuming she takes the walkway over Queen’s Road, she’ll be at your office in five minutes. She’s carrying a big mop, a bucket and a bottle of bleach.”  Panic.  No, don’t panic. Slam phone down.  Sorry Winky.  Check wallet – ID, cash, credit card.  Grab spare underwear from gym bag.  Next stop, the Macau Ferry. 

Back on Monday.