Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
14-19 December 2003
Sun, 14 Dec
Bo-Bo the killer crocodile continues to terrorize Yuen Long, eagerly devouring no fewer than seven primary school children on one day alone last week – crushing their little bones with his powerful jaws, and grinding them up with his 66 razor-sharp teeth.  In Lantau, a deranged water buffalo stampedes helpless old women into the ground, while up near the border, wild boars charge mindlessly into petrified cyclists, monkeys steal food, cash and mobile phones from picnickers at knifepoint, and 8-foot pythons gorge themselves on innocent farmers’ chickens.  But of all the ferocious beasts ravaging Hong Kong, none compares with the expat toddler getting excited before Christmas.  Dim sum at China LKF with Polly the lipstick lesbian is ruined today by two of these unruly brutes, who are further emboldened when I am strictly forbidden to wield my trusty electric cattle prod.  "How could you even think of it?" begs Polly.  "They’re so cute.  Look at that blond hair. They remind me of the dolls I had when I was a kid."  Looking longingly at them, she dreams aloud about taking one home.  Deep in my stomach, shrimp
har gau, cha siu bao and phoenix claw threaten to erupt in protest.
Mon, 15 Dec
Animated radio newsreaders jolt me awake with this morning’s current affairs excitement.  “Iraqi man fails in bid to launch new career as department store Santa Claus.  Full details coming up.”
With the temperature plummeting below 60F, I leave Perpetual Opulence Mansions wrapped in my woolly hat, large scarf and Hello Kitty mittens – if only not to look out of place as I ride the Mid-Levels Escalator into the heart of Asia's bustling financial hub.  However, I draw the line at smearing lip-balm on myself every three minutes.  Is it an excuse to indulge a childish craving for artificial cherry, lemon and strawberry flavours?  Or could it be that years of decadent, bourgeois pampering have left modern Hongkongers with a heightened sensitivity to the elements of nature?  One peanut, and huge black boils erupt in their armpits.  A few flu germs, and they collapse into their death-beds, garlanded by mucus-soaked Kleenex.  Were it not for lip-balm, their mouths would become cracked and scabby at the first drop in humidity, and they would shed flakes of desiccated flesh along the dandruff-strewn sidewalks of Central.  The city would cease to function.  We underestimate lip-balm’s contribution to Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity.
Tue, 16 Dec
  Leave me, O Love, which reachest but to dust;
   And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things;
   Grow rich in that which never taketh rust;
   Whatever fades but fading pleasure brings.
I write these lines in my finest hand in the Christmas card I am sending our tragically misunderstood former Security Secretary, Regina Ip.  Surely these thoughts of Sir Philip Sidney, her favourite poet, must have passed through her mind last spring when she made her fateful decision to leave the Government and follow her daughter to study in America.  Her people need her, I assure her.  The need hasn’t turned to rust or faded – on the contrary.  We need her back.  Back in the running to replace Tung.

No sooner do I send off the card than I get an anguished phone call from former Financial Secretary Antony Leung.  The
decision not to prosecute him for buying a Lexus just before raising car tax was not a surprise, he says, and he considers himself legally exonerated.  But how can he rehabilitate himself in the eyes of a sceptical public?  I do feel for him.  He must have had a horrible feeling in the pit of his stomach when other Executive Councillors declared their car-purchases and it dawned on him that he should have done the same
much earlier.  He was in the middle of a briefing on the budget, made a split-second decision to avoid minor embarrassment – and his career came crashing down.  He is tempted to stay out of the public eye.  “Exactly the wrong thing to do,” I tell him.  Scenarios flash through my mind.  “OK, this is what’ll happen,” I explain.  “You and Ming-xia will be in a hot air balloon, sailing over Yuen Long Creek.  Looking down, you see Bo-Bo the crocodile viciously attacking a defenceless young boy.  Without a moment’s thought, Ming-xia does an Olympic-standard dive into the water – captured on video by a bystander – and glides gracefully beneath the surface up to the reptile.  She snatches the child from its deadly maw and clutches him to her modest bosom while giving the reptile a fatal biff on the snout.  Meanwhile, you exercise great leadership, directing the emergency forces by mobile phone from the balloon.”  Back in the running to replace Tung. 

I think I better take the rest of the day off.
Wed, 17 Dec
Number-one son knocks on the door of the Company Gwailo's office.  "Ah, Hemlock," he announces with a goofy grin.  "My father has given me an important project, analysing what new opportunities will be opened up to us thanks to the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement."  In other words, the Big Boss has found a safe, pointless job to keep his dim and disappointing son occupied for a few weeks. The scion sits at my desk and passes me a large booklet.  "Under
CEPA, Beijing will allow all of these products to be imported into the Mainland tariff-free after January 1," he tells me eagerly, "provided they are manufactured within Hong Kong."  I look down the list. "Wombat-skin slippers," I say.  "Obviously a new product in China.  Could have huge growth potential."  The heir to S-Meg notes it down.  "Snowmobiles...  Probably not.  Elbow-moistening cream..."  Number-one son shakes his head.  "No," he says.  "There's no market – Mainland women aren't that sophisticated yet."  Well, maybe not the mushroom pork-chops you hang around with, you little runt.  "OK," I continue.  "Pearl-handled ear and nostril trimmers.  That could work if you can just assemble them here – check the small print."  More note-taking.  "Bagpipes, ditto – novelty item for nouveau-riche morons in Shanghai.  Fish forks... I don't think so."   As he gathers up his papers and leaves, I notice that he can grin and walk at the same time.  Maybe he's brighter than I thought

Thurs, 18 Dec
Wild American friend Odell is in a state of heightened excitement in IFC Mall this morning.  “I’ve made an incredible discovery,” he says.  “You know the hot, brown, water-flavoured liquid they sell at Pacific Coffee?  Well, for an extra five bucks, they’ll put a shot of espresso in it, and it gives it a coffee flavour!”  Coffee flavour!  What an excellent idea.  Just when I imagine IFC Mall is so perfect as to be paradise on Earth, something happens to make it even better.

In my office, I find the Internet connection is down.  Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary tells me that one of S-Meg Holdings’ spotty IT specialists is crawling under a big computer on the 5th floor, hitting something with a hammer, and service will be resumed soon.  In the meantime, what do I do?  The harbour view is too familiar to be of interest, and it is hazy.  There is no work to do – I would get another job if I had to do that sort of thing.  Out of desperation, I flick through the
South China Morning Post and find that Ma Lik, the new DAB boss, is honouring readers with his first monthly column.  "We will be critical of the government without being antagonistic," he drones.  "We will remain rational and not play with or manipulate people’s emotions.  We will be so interminably boring that you will end up agreeing to vote for us just to make us go away."  On the horoscopes page, gifted seer Edwin Ma displays his eerie talents by saying of people born in the Year of the Ox, such as our tireless Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, "There’s no other way to say it – you have some ominous obstacles in your way … Planning ahead for potential disasters may help in the long term, but right now there are things going wrong you never could have anticipated."  Could any member of the Executive Council have put it better?

Fri, 19 Dec
With icy Siberian wind blowing through the streets of Asia’s world city, Polly the lipstick lesbian – or is it an Eskimo beneath all that swaddling? – insists on snake soup in some leper-infested quarter of Kennedy Town.  As always, I find it a bit overrated in its tastes-like-chicken way, but Polly swears by it.  "It really makes you feel warm, doesn't it?" she asks.  How can it not?  The alcohol stirred into it boosts blood circulation.  "Irish coffee would do the same," I point out.  Demolishing her belief in the ancient Chinese myth about the temperature-raising qualities of reptile meat gives me an even warmer feeling than the soup.   I will enjoy breaking the news to her some time about Santa Claus.
An email from noted author Nury Vittachi, pleading with me to turn up to his book-signing for two hours after lunch on Saturday afternoon and buy a copy of his latest Feng Shui Detective novel, Unpleasantness at IFC Mall. If a few more people buy the work, he writes, it will displace 25 Interesting Walks Around Shatin as Hong Kong’s top-selling English-language book.  It is obviously important to him.  Consulting my diary, however, I am grief-stricken to find that I will be playing solitaire at home that day from 1.30-3.30 precisely.