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

16-22 January 2005

Mon, 17 Jan
Flicking through a backlog of inconsequential reading matter before throwing it out, I find myself reviewing the last few days’ news.  After exacting a toll of 170,000 deaths, the Great Asian Tsunami is officially over.  Into scenes of destruction, misery and mutilation have swooped foreign helicopters bearing crates full of optimism, cheer and positive thinking.  And paint.  A lick of paint, and everyone forgets what happened, and the happy, smiling inhabitants of the Indian Ocean coast get their lives back in order.  Plucky fisherman take their boats back out to reap the harvest of the sea.  Joyous young couples with babies and livestock ride overladen mopeds along sidewalks.  Skillfully trained, dedicated monkeys clamber up trees to select and pluck the ripest, most succulent coconuts.  And waiters radiating natural charm serve pina coladas to large sunburnt Scandinavians discovering the ancient culture of the mystical Orient.  In the wave’s wake, the action shifts to the county of Gloucestershire, England, where one Prince Harry is photographed attending a fancy dress party in a Nazi uniform and swastika.  Harry is the son of the late doe-eyed bimbo-saint, Princess Diana and – I am reliably told – an inbred, educationally subnormal army officer who offered her relief from the company of her eccentric husband and tiresome in-laws.  That the 20-year-old can feed himself is a cause for wonder.  With relief, I turn to
HK Magazine, where at least I will find the sage counsel of  Dan Savage.  Suddenly, a tautology leaps out at me from the page.  I swat it and send it reeling across the room.  But I haven’t seen the last of it!  Briefly perusing the journalistic wasteland that is the Sunday Morning Post Magazine, it jumps at me again!  I bundle it up in the rag and chuck it in the bin.  It is clearly at large and determined to haunt me.  From now on, thanks to the autists who pass as copy editors in Hong Kong’s English press, everywhere I look I will see ‘metric tonnes’.

THE HEARTS of Hong Kong citizens swell with pride as they see their city coming seventh in Munich Re’s
Big List of Places Most Likely to Suffer Hellish Carnage and Mayhem Sometime – yet more proof that the Big Lychee is a world class city, up there with Tokyo and New York.  Shanghai-the-city-that’s-taking-over-from-Hong Kong and little Singapore don’t even rank.  Were they to slip into the sea or be swallowed into the bowels of the Earth, Munich Re are telling us in their diplomatic Teutonic way, what would there be to miss?  I cannot disagree.

A PHONE call from my lowlife friend Heung Kwok-leung, bookmaker to the gentry of Mongkok.  What sort of odds do I think he should offer on the
Zhao Ziyang funeral?  After a few minutes’ discussion, we decide on the following…
-  Private family funeral attended by no officials, media dwell on his serious errors in supporting turmoil and attempting to split the Party: 3-2
-  Private family funeral attended by no officials, reported in a few bland newspaper paragraphs:
-  Private family funeral attended by insultingly low-ranking government or party official, reported in a few bland newspaper paragraphs:
-  Buried at night in a cardboard box in an unmarked plot at no charge to the family, no media reports:
-  Full state funeral attended by leadership, broadcast live on TV followed by official public mourning:
Tue, 18 Jan
Alarming evidence finally surfaces of the growing threat to the freedom of the English-speaking world posed by the
insidious alliance between China and Andorra, a conspiracy to replace the natural global order with ‘multipolarization’, the UN's ‘leading role’, ‘cultural diversity’ and other fantasies springing from diseased French minds.  Ever eager to do Beijing’s bidding, Hong Kong’s English press pretends nothing is happening.  Instead, they fall back on that traditional last resort of the newspaper editor desperate to fill space – the hairy Westerner passing through the Big Lychee while walking backwards around the world for charity.  If it were up to me these people would be turned away at the Lo Wu border, their demands for attention and publicity being met with a sneer and a brisk wave of an immigration officer’s hand.  With a big red stamp declaring ‘Denied entry for being tedious’ in their passports, they would slink away into the crowds of Shenzhen to seek their first shower and sandwich since Ulan Bataar without imposing themselves on us.  Our spineless authorities let them in, however, hence the hirsute intrepid traveller du jour – a solo Brit demanding Marmite® and regaling us with tails of beating vicious tigers to death with a bicycle chain.  It will take more than Marmite® and a bicycle chain to deal with the emerging Sino-Andorran menace.
Wed, 19 Jan
Strolling across Statue Square, I spy Liberal Party doyenne Selina Chow prowling outside the Legislative Council building.  “We’re the champions of the consumer today,” she proudly announces, flourishing the motion she will be introducing in the Circus this afternoon …
…this Council urges the Government to actively consider introducing a fair competition law and other effective measures for the oil industries … with a view to increasing competition in the oil industries and enhancing the transparency of product prices, thereby avoiding oligopoly, promoting fair competition and safeguarding commercial clients and the public against high oil prices…
“Wow!” I blurt out, handing it back to the pert lawmaker, “you’re reaching new heights of sliminess here.”  She grins broadly and thanks me.  “Really Selina, your party has always been hostile to consumers’ rights.  In fact, you personally fought moves to legalize parallel imports – thus allowing distributors to gouge all they can from customers.”  She nods, and explains that this was too good to miss.  None of the party’s leaders own oil companies.  It looks good – if a little incongruous – to battle evil exploitative businesses.  And party nematode-in-chief, the greasy idiot savant James Tien, has a large collection of high-performance sports cars that cost a lot to drive.  “I’m impressed,” I admit.  “For a group of intellectually challenged opportunists, it’s brilliant.”  She smiles, gives me a cheeky wink, and turns towards the members’ entrance.  Life must be so wonderfully easy when you’re totally devoid of any principles.

Thurs, 20 Jan
Who is to blame for yesterday’s
outbreak of mass infantilism in the Legislative Council?  That is the question on everyone’s lips this morning as we glide down the Mid-Levels Escalator into Central and wade to work through the foam left by lawmakers frothing at the mouth over their opponents’ unspeakable behaviour.  My neighbour the investment banker blames the pro-democracy camp.  All they had to do was hold their minute’s silence for Zhou Ziyang outside the Circus, he points out.  But no, they had to be self-righteous, attention-seeking bores, breaking rules just to make a point.  My other neighbour, the marketing manager, begs to differ.  She blames the pro-Beijing members who left the chamber and didn’t return.  They saw an opportunity to shine communist shoes and make the democrats look bad simultaneously – and distract attention from their spineless inability to form their own opinion of a great man’s place in history.
As we approach Queen’s Road they turn to me, as if I have the casting vote – like the President of Legco.  “All Rita Fan had to do,” I tell them, “was look at her watch, mutter a few words to the clerk, shuffle some papers, look at her watch again and that would be it – 60 seconds over, on with the show.”  My fellow-commuters look unconvinced.  “Unless,” I add, “the walk-out was choreographed behind the scenes by grim consumers of black hair dye, to isolate the disloyal, unpatriotic rabble two-thirds of us vote for.”  This brings nods of agreement.  And then shrugs.  Everyone comes out of this looking bad.  As Rita Fan says, Legco’s reputation has been sullied.  In a proper Asian democracy, Emily Lau would leap onto James Tien and chew his ear off, while Tsang Yok-sing would grab Martin Lee’s spectacles and trample them underfoot.  In Hong Kong, half of them stand in silence, while the other half slowly and quietly walk out.  More proof that we’re not ready for universal suffrage.
Fri, 21 Jan
In his inauguration speech, against a backdrop of pompom-waving majorettes in hot pants, President Bush used the word ‘freedom’ once every 37.8 seconds.  We will
spread freedom around the globe, he announced.  We will twist open the jar of liberty, insert the knife of righteousness and apply thick layers of freedom – silken and golden – leaving our entire benighted world’s spacious skies, amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain, from sea to shining sea, in its warm embrace.  He also said “To serve your people you must learn to trust them,” though it seems Xinhua sadly lacked sufficient time or space to include that part.
WHY AM I in the office when the Big Boss is away in the Philippines garroting a sleazy Hokkien-speaking tycoon over a failed bit of asset-trading grubbiness?  Because no-one told me he would be out of town.  While plotting how to spend the rest of the day, I flick idly through the newspapers.  My heart sinks…
Ever since the handover in 1997, [Hong Kong] has been deeply concerned that it would become a neglected financial stepchild to Shanghai…
Except it hasn’t been.  The statement is a blatant falsehood – the invention of an idiot or a liar.  Which is The Standard’s Pamela Pun?  Her moniker being an anagram of ‘a pulp name’, I would guess the former.  Reading on, it becomes clear that even a determined effort to boost this Potemkin financial centre built by communists and now slowly sinking into its drained swamp is doomed to fail.  Shanghai is actually falling behind, she writes.  Not because it lacks rule of law, free movement of foreign exchange, free allocation of capital or a free flow of information.  No – because the landlords are rapacious.  Unlike their Hong Kong counterparts, who constantly pester us with offers of vast expanses of space on lengthy leases at peppercorn rents.  For this, Pamela Pun graciously allows the Big Lychee a few years’ more life.

In all fairness, Shanghai is a major centre for derivatives.  The architecture is Hong Kong.  The TV tower is Toronto.  The museum and opera are Paris.  The trendy nightspot for Westerners is Lan Kwai Fong.  The floodlit greenery hanging from freeway bridges is Singapore.  The flow of women to Hong Kong to sell their bodies is Bangkok.  The power cuts are Manila circa 1987.  The city’s only authentic feature is the lack of original thinking.  And with that off my chest, I declare this weekend open.