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

13-19 June 2004

Sun, 13 June
Which of the following three products of Glasgow, Scotland is most likely to damage the health of an ugly teenage girl walking her labrador across a quiet road near Sai Kung?  1)  Deep fried pizza.  2)  Fried Mars Bar in batter.  3)  Morris of the Hong Kong Police, getting impatient behind the wheel of his Honda Civic.  “Get that bloody dog out ma way!” he mutters.  “Oh aye – an’ the one wi’ the muzzle!”  He is in a bad mood because the district has a shortage of agents – expat brats who don’t get arrested for possession of Ecstasy in exchange for snitching on their dealers.  His men are relying on unreliable Nepalese youths for low-grade narcotics intelligence.  I blame the Government’s anti-drug propaganda.  Every time I switch on the radio I hear it – ‘Drugs.  Are.  Bad.  Say.  No.  To.  Drugs.’  What dope fiend cannot be persuaded to kick his habit by so subtle a PR campaign?  I try to cheer him up.  “The UK Independence Party did really well in the European elections,” I tell him.  “They want Britain to pull out of the European Union.”  He slaps the steering wheel, a sincere grin spreading over his face.  “That true?” he asks.  “Bloody brilliant!”  He sniggers.  “God, I hate Belgians.”  Thus I sweeten his temper, and we enjoy an excellent curry lunch this afternoon.

Mon, 14 June
Unable to subject me to vile psychological torture, because I report directly to our almighty Chairman and Chief Executive, S-Meg Holdings HR boss Ms Leung Yuk-mei has taken to burdening me with requests to do her job for her.  She is cunning – although these duties do not come under my purview, she asks me to perform only those that no-one else in the company is as well-qualified to do.  Which is why, this morning, I help interview two candidates for the post of Deputy Assistant Senior Marketing Manager, with a view to gauging their English. 

The first is called Ringo, a graduate of Baptist University.  As well as being male, he is spotty, so I ask him to read an extract from Poul Anderson’s brilliant
Uncleftish Beholding and then brief me on it for 10 minutes.  He says it makes no sense to him.  “That’s perfectly OK,” I assure him with a smile.  Then a quick general knowledge test.  “To whom was George W Bush referring when he said to Dick Cheny ‘he’s a major league asshole’?”  He scratches his head. Oh dear.  Sorry, Ringo.

The second, Louisa, graduated from Lingnan University – the
strange college that employs a Ms Irene Kwan to instruct students on how to use a knife and fork, and relies on the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council to introduce them to the delights of rampant, promiscuous sex.  Louisa has full, inviting lips and a very shapely figure, and immediately strikes me as the sort of person who could make a significant contribution to the company.  I therefore ask her to read and comment on a South China Morning Post editorial.  She says it makes no sense to her.  “That’s exactly right – it doesn’t to anyone,” I tell her.  “Well done.”  For general knowledge, I ask her to name any city in the world with roughly the same population as Shatin, our glamorous and historic gateway to the north.  She takes a deep breath and concentrates furiously.  Macau would be a good answer.  “Um… Wyoming?” she ventures.  I nod gently.  Good enough.

Tue, 15 June
An email from someone in the publishing trade.  Would I join a couple of fellow members of the South China Association of Millionaire Pranksters in providing a second round of financing for
Spike magazine?  Without further funds, it seems, the magazine may need to be ‘rested’ – as in ‘put to sleep’.  I am in two minds.  Hong Kong badly needs a publication combining biting, irreverent, satire, hard comment and investigative journalism, but where does Spike come into this?  As always with charitable donations, any money of mine would come with strings attached.  I send off a quick reply…
They’d have to review the basic model – cover price, frequency, etc.  They’d have to start using the Internet properly – make the site interactive and get an on-line community going.  They’d have to get rid of the boring dross.  Who wants to read about Gloria Wu’s wretched-sounding kids?  Who’s interested in the insipid meanderings of some doctor?  Who laughs at the bits that are supposed to be funny?  Who has sued so far?  Just as you get a lame government if all its members are drawn from CH Tung’s friends, so you get a limp read if all the contributors have to be old buddies of the publisher. 

Most of all, they would have to go out there, find some real talent and drag it in.  What about the kid who was expelled from a Shatin ESF school for his website?  Make him education correspondent.  The interesting folk at
chiseen.com?  Give them a camera and let them loose on the streets.  The unspeakable brutes at Not the South China Morning Post?  Toss them some raw meat and a bottle of something and cover your eyes.  People who don’t live in the Foreign Correspondents Club?  Give Glutter’s work on street racers a polish.  Domestic helpers working for households of savages and sociopaths?  Let’s have a weekly column by an amah to find Hong Kong’s worst family.  It goes on and on.  And skewer people properly!  James Tien is a slimy, odious nematode, Tsang Hin-chee is a boot-licking, Neanderthal crook – put it in print.

Meanwhile, my cheque book stays where it is.
Wed, 16 June
They haven’t even been banned in Singapore yet!  On the subject of banning, it was exactly 100 years ago today…
MR LEOPOLD BLOOM ATE WITH RELISH THE INNER ORGANS OF BEASTS and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod's roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.
I unwittingly experience a brush with the outbreak of mass moronism known as the Euro 2004 football championship.  On several occasions in recent weeks I have bought something at a 7-Eleven and received a free gift wrapped in a metallic green envelope with a picture of a soccer player on it – which obviously has always gone straight into the bin, unopened.  I read in today’s Standard that the envelopes contain holographic pictures of teams.  The exact purpose of these cards escapes me, but apparently some of our more retarded and infantile fellow citizens believe it is essential to accumulate one featuring each of the 16 sides playing in the tournament.  After selling their sisters and daughters in order to buy things they don’t want from 7-Eleven, many have acquired all of the cards, save for a peculiarly elusive one.  It now transpires that, owing to a complex series of events involving sex, guns, money, drugs and lawyers in faraway lands, there is no card representing the Russian team.  This is causing extreme mental anguish among some of the Big Lychee’s least intelligent and productive inhabitants, who will soon be raining from the skies as they hurl themselves wailing from their high-rise tenements in Yuen Long and Tuen Mun, thus doing everyone with no interest in 7-Elevens an enormous favour.

Across the harbour, meanwhile, the central business district is less crowded than usual this morning as European expats sleep in late after staying up until 4am to watch a TV show on which people in brightly coloured uniforms run pointlessly up and down a field.  According to Kevin the Australian doorman in the pub in Lan Kwai Fong, some participants in this otiose mania are going to bed early and then getting up at 2am.  Others are staying in the pub most of the night in order to witness such scintillating and dramatic scenes as a 20 year old man with a silly hair style writhing in agony like a big cry baby because he fell over.  Thus it is that a serious proportion of Hong Kong’s most highly paid banking, technical, legal and other talent is at this moment either in bed unconscious, or in the office but incapacitated by alcohol poisoning.  Who cannot be amazed by the way Asia’s international financial hub so admirably manages to conduct business as usual without these exceptional people’s contributions?
Thurs, 17 June
With Euro 2004 almost impossible to escape, I find myself wondering whether any nation in the world, with the possible exception of Canada, is less offensive than the event’s host country, plucky little Portugal?  Even after half a millennium of dwindling towards complete insignificance, echoes of Lusitanian influence are all around us – from the name of Kennedy Town’s Praya, to the incomprehensible announcements on the Macau Ferry, to the salt cod and olives on the menu at the Pousada Restaurant.  While other countries have bequeathed humanity such ugly innovations as gunpowder, Nazism and double-entry bookkeeping, the sons of Lisbon determined – the hard way – that the world was round, and left it at that.  So what has this charming and innocuous land done to deserve the barbarism and brutality of the sub-human species known as the English soccer fan?  And why have their gallant law enforcement personnel treated these loathsome beer bellies on legs
so lightly, pacifying them with clubs, horses and dogs, when bullwhips, buckshot and starved tigers are so plainly called for?  According to one report, Albion’s beer-swilling, Marmite-breathed hordes had brought small children in strollers with them, secure in the knowledge that the soft-hearted Latin police would refrain from mowing them down, being under the illusion that the infants were the offspring of Homo sapiens.  Such decadence and frailty – Portugal’s last dying breath cannot be far off.

Fri, 18 June
Breakfast in a large private room with the Big Boss and a trio of investment bankers – calm, well-fed and self-satisfied, the sumptuousness of their cufflinks and ties lending them an almost effeminate look.  Of course, looks deceive.  Beneath their charming exteriors rages high-finance testosterone.  They are playing a very subdued hard ball with the Big Boss, who is keen to see S-Meg Holdings figure more prominently in some large equity portfolios.  It would bolster the share price.  It would help protect the company from hostile encroachments.  And, not least, it would look good.  Speaking with the utmost delicacy, the three princes refer to their ‘broad approach’ – general principles on corporate governance and management.  Reading deep between the lines, it’s not pretty.  They could almost be suggesting that number-one son is a total dimwit and unfit to occupy a senior position in the company.  You could almost infer that they disapprove of all the fellow tycoons, cousins and in-laws on the board of directors.  They could be interpreted as saying the firm needs new blood, new people, new expertise – technocrats who haven’t spent 20 years in the same, opportunism-for-strategy, family-run environment.  One of the immaculate I-bankers diplomatically praises the Big Boss for running a world class enterprise, not like some firms he could mention where “they talk about horse racing in board meetings.”  A prawn
siu mai slips from my chopsticks onto the tablecloth.

Returning to S-Meg Tower, we stop off at Central Government Offices, passing as we pull in an almost identical Mercedes with a young, second-tier tycoon in the back, catching up on phone calls.  “Just be a few minutes,” says the Big Boss before disappearing into the Main Wing, leaving me alone with Parker the driver, who kindly updates me on the latest developments concerning his wife’s ovarian cyst.  A good 20 minutes later, S-Meg’s visionary Chairman and Chief Executive returns, visibly irritated.  “More of this
nonsense about the business community getting more active in politics,” he mutters.  “They basically want me to help start up a pro-business, pro-middle class political party.  Why me?  Where do I get the time?  Impossible.  I said so.”  I nod.  Donald Tsang wants a reliable, electable, Beijing-friendly force that can displace the Democrats.  Until one exists, universal suffrage is a non-starter.  “There would be brownie points in it,” I point out.  “Think about it – someone who manages to convince all the tycoons in Hong Kong to stop cadging favours off Tung in private, and start engaging in public horse-trading and lobbying with taxpayers.”  The Big Boss nods with an incredulous look on his face.  “Exactly – what a job!  I’ve got better things to do.”  He shakes his head.  “Crazy.”