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

14-20 March 2004

Mon, 15 Mar
With the aid of Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary and an impressive computer program that converts traditional Chinese into ugly simplified characters, I print out an application for the position of
less well-trained female astronaut on behalf of my neighbour at Perpetual Opulence Mansions.  I will fax it to Beijing later this morning.  I do hope she is selected.  It would come as a wonderful surprise to her, and – as we all know – in space, no-one can hear you play mahjong.
The Government’s decision to allow car owners to compose and bid for vanity plates is meeting with approval among exiled Hong Kong political dissidents, who kindly send me their own suggestions from around the Canto-diaspora.  The Transport Department's Committee on the Promotion of Virtue and the Suppression of Vice plans to weed out offensive strings of numbers and letters, but surely this will simply encourage people to use their imaginations.  For example, will the licence plate censors be able to spot obscenities and political subversion in dead languages like Latin, Manx or French?  We will have fun finding out.
Tue, 16 Mar
"They wanted me to go to this thing," laughs the Big Boss at the morning meeting, pointing at the newspaper reports on yesterday’s
seminar on the Basic Law‘Spirit, not words’ is the key to the Basic Law, says the headline.  He should have gone.  I went.  It was brilliant.  They had more hallucinogenic drugs than at Woodstock.  The wording of our constitution is not related to its meaning.  Universal suffrage does not mean democracy.  And we must distinguish between real democracy and fake democracy.  Fourteen years of the Basic Law.  What a long, strange trip it’s been.  It’s a little book, with a shiny, deep crimson cover.  We were all sitting there, mesmerized by that colour, watching it glow and shimmer, listening to it making a buzzing noise.  Here in the fifth dimension...  Asia’s World City.  Note that they didn’t say which world.   Eventually, in mid-flight, a minor flaw in the beautiful, warped logic began to nag, and I slowly started to come down.  Sipping orange juice, I found myself pondering.  Leaving the poor man’s senility to one side, can we take Basic Law drafter Xu Chongde’s words – "words don’t mean what you think they mean" – to mean what we think they mean?

It is hard to tell whether the effects have worn off when everyone else seems to be tripping.  Have the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong reduced their consumption of psychedelic substances under new boss Ma Lik?  Judging by the motion they are introducing into the circus tomorrow, I am delighted to say that it appears not...
That, in order to enhance Hong Kong's international image and its position as a financial centre and achieve sustainable development, this Council urges the Government to expeditiously develop a partnership relationship with the business sector, public organizations and voluntary agencies, etc, and to discuss with them to jointly formulate effective ways to implement the concept of corporate social and environmental responsibility; at the same time, the Government should direct the public sector to take the lead in implementing the relevant actions and, through extensive education and publicity, raise the public's awareness of corporate social and environmental responsibility as well as give impetus to the corporations concerned to shoulder their responsibility.
Sustainable development – I don’t know what it is, but it makes me reach for my Browning 9mm.  Still, good old DAB.  They’re going to expeditiously develop a partnership relationship and have non-stop relevant actions and extensive education and publicity… all night long.  Since they’re such fun, I’ll keep it to myself that last year they committed the treacherous act of contacting a foreign legislature that was interfering in China’s internal affairs.

Wed, 17 Mar
The Big Boss drags me along on a courtesy visit to the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau to be familiarised with  ‘social capital’ – obviously something from the same planet as sustainable development.  Straight after the usual toadying welcome from a senior flunky, the great man starts taking phone calls, leaving me to bear the brunt of bureaucrats’ briefings. 

The first concerns something called the
Community Investment and Inclusion Fund.  It's as bad as it sounds.  An exclusively elite panel – Raymond ‘dog biscuits’ Wu, Dr this JP, The Hon that GBS – throw taxpayers' money at projects to make the lower orders feel ‘involved’.  A Tung Chee-hwa initiative, the delightful young female Administrative Officer superfluously points out.  Horror of horrors – they are unable to disburse all their funds, owing to a lack of suitable projects.  "So, let me guess," I ask her, "you're going to give the money back to the people who earned it?"  She giggles coquettishly at my zany imagination and cheeky wit. 

We are then led down some corridors, the Big Boss screaming "…he’s never doing business in Hong Kong again!" into his phone as we go.  I spend the next 20 minutes looking out of the window while a slightly bohemian lady drones on about
Young Night Drifters.  A good name for a rock band, I suggest.  She is not amused.  Apparently, they are teenagers who hang around playgrounds after dark, as seen on anti-drugs TV commercials – and, inevitably, another excuse to fritter away public wealth. 

We are then led to a conference room, though the Big Boss stays outside.  A spotty male civil servant starts briefing me on the
Support for Self-Reliance Scheme.  My initial irritation at the blatant oxymoron gradually turns to anger.  The pressure rises.  "OK," I interrupt, taking a deep breath. "Let's get this straight.  You're running a scheme that spends public resources on trying to get the lower orders to be less dependent on public resources.  Correct?"  He thinks it through, blinking and eventually nods.  Possessed by the demon of righteous taxpayer vengeance, I snap.  The last thing I remember before being bundled out of the building by the Big Boss, I am pinning the hapless administrator to the tabletop with my hands clutched tightly around his throat, yelling "Stop! Giving! Them! Money!"
Thurs, 18 Mar
"If I hear the Carpenters again I’m going to puke," threatens wild American friend Odell.  Thus fear of early-morning, muzak-induced nausea drives us from the IFC Mall Pacific Coffee to the sumptuous surroundings of the nearby Starbucks, with its light jazz and breathtaking view of the Outlying Islands Ferry Terminal bus concourse.  "Who’s Wu Sangui?" he asks, looking up from the newspaper.  "Xinhua has
likened Martin Lee to him for talking to the US Congress."  I tell him the story of the treacherous Ming Dynasty general who opened the gates in the Great Wall and allowed the Manchus in to set up the Qing.  "Strong stuff," I conclude.  "That analogy also implies that Americans are barbarians," I inform the Utah-born ex-Mormon, anticipating his disgust at such a slur against the civilization that gave the world Cheez Whiz.  "It’ll blow over," I reassure him.  "This is all to save Jiang Zemin’s face.  They can’t admit his choice of Tung as Chief Executive was a major disaster, so they’re frothing at the mouth about something irrelevant. Just sit back and enjoy the entertainment."  Odell nods, and we sip our hot, water-flavoured brown liquid, noting the contrasts with the Pacific Coffee product.  "Maybe the water comes from a different tank," suggests Odell, turning to the TV listings.  "This is a big mall."  The people at Xinhua have a credibility problem.  Don’t they realize how foolish they’re looking?  Shouldn’t someone tell them how incredibly boring Martin Lee is?
Fri, 19 Mar
An anguished email from a somewhat ill-bred member of the expatriate management cadre at opium traders Jardines, begging piteously for a ticket to the wretched Rugby Sevens, which must be coming up soon.  He thinks I still get a couple of free ones every year.  Those were the days.  The delight I took in waving them in front of drooling white trash consumed by a pathological need to attend the tiresome-sounding event – then held in a small venue with little seating.  I'll never forget dropping the scarce, brightly coloured coupons face up into the bottom of a urinal at Mad Dogs pub, giving them a good dousing, and then returning 20 minutes later to confirm my suspicion that some poor, demented idiot would have fished them out.  "The atmosphere's wonderful," he would have explained, had I caught the tragic victim of Sevens mania peeling the paper off the porcelain.  Indeed.  The streets are largely gwailo-free for a weekend as thousands of Hong Kong's most unspeakable inhabitants herd themselves into a stadium, engage in boorish, inebriated rituals and watch deformed Polynesians grunt their way up and down a field.  So what shall I say to my friend at Jardines?  I'll tell him nonchalantly that I have a pair of tickets, but I can't remember where they are.  Maybe I threw them in the bin.  He'll tear his hair out.