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

16-22 May 2004

Sun, 16 May
Lunch at the City Chiu Chow restaurant with favourite married couple Lincoln and May.  The calorie-drenched food is excellent, but the mood is sombre, with the discussion constantly coming back to the same subjects.  Feelings of despair and powerlessness following the crushing of the couple’s and Hong Kong’s democratic aspirations.  Bitterness at the contempt Beijing officials and local tycoons have for Hong Kong.  Fears of a ‘gradual and orderly’ erosion of freedom and the law.  They are expecting a baby in two months and show me a newly framed photo of the two of them, euphoric, on last year’s July 1st anti-government march.  It will go in the nursery.  “We want baby to know we took part and did what we could,” says May almost mournfully.  Not for the first time, they talk of emigrating.  “I think Hong Kong’s good for one last run,” says Lincoln.  “This stupid Government is getting us into a serious property shortage in the next four years.  Then that’s it.  We’ll probably sell our place around 2007 when prices peak, and Tung’s departure might provide a short-term boost.  Then it’s…”  He shrugs.  “…off to Toronto, I suppose.”  He takes a stoical deep breath.  “History repeats itself.  My father brought us here so we wouldn’t grow up under the communists.”  A grim silence.  I see a tear fall down May’s cheek.  They’re serious this time.  Depressing.

Mon, 17 May
The week officially starts with a sip of coffee in my lair on the top floor of S-Meg Tower, and a few moments admiring the view from the window of the glory that is Victoria harbour.  With little enthusiasm, I flick through the
South China Morning Post.  The Venerable Sik Kok Kwong, the 102-year-old president of the HK Buddhist Association, is on the front page, saying that politics has no place in religion, and the faithful should not attend the pro-democracy march on July 1st.  As for universal suffrage, he says, “a few years’ delay doesn’t matter.”  Indeed.  Just close your eyes and think ‘some other lifetime’.  Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases.  The rest of the SCMP’s main section is devoted to day-old newswire reports and an entire page celebrating the superlative municipal management skills of Chongqing vice-mayor Huang Qifan.  I carefully cut this out to read the next time I am trapped in an elevator with charismatic Democratic Party boss Yeung Sum.

I turn to the rag’s
City section for the important things.  A one-page article, originally written in 1972, reveals that “more and more local Chinese are giving themselves foreign names.”  These days, there are two stories here.  One, the growing tendency among some Hongkongers of Westernised/banana lineage to use only Chinese names.  Two, the growing number of Mainlanders calling themselves Jimmy, Mary, Lucretia, etc.  Finally, we have a big expose – ‘Online brothels target westerners’.  Unlike supermarkets, furniture stores, travel agents and other businesses in Hong Kong, all of which assiduously try to avoid attracting non-Chinese customers.   I have to wonder how the SCMP reporter (one Peter Michael) happened across these dismal websites in the first place, though I note he does not stoop so low as to mention any URLs, which would be a disgusting thing to do.

Tue, 18 May
The long-awaited
report of the independent panel of inquiry into Harbour Fest is out.  It recommends that InvestHK’s Mike Rowse be thrown off the Star Ferry pier with his ears nailed to large planks of wood, and AmCham’s Jim Thompson be locked for a month in a cell in which Edith Piaf’s Je Ne Regrette Rien is played 24 hours a day.  I will enjoy the entertainment, but I know deep down that the poor, misunderstood gwailos are scapegoats.  They are symptoms, not the cause, of the real problem – namely, a Government that has no confidence in Hong Kong’s ability to right itself after a crisis, and no alternative solution to perceived problems than the hurling of huge amounts of our money into the toilet.  Ask a senior Hong Kong official to devise a policy that requires no expenditure and you will get a very long silence.  Ask them if they can spell ‘supply side’, and you will hear nothing but the scratching of well-manicured fingernails against scalp and the pitter-patter of a few grains of dandruff on a polished rosewood desk.  We paid US$800,000 rather than the standard US$100,000 to have Neil Young.  That was worth it.  Round it up to a million next time.  The rest was a horrible waste of wealth.  We paid US$85,000 too much for Air Supply – the only band in the world named after something its members should have had cut off at birth.  (Not counting, on the grounds that we were all gentiles, The Foreskins, for whom I briefly played undergraduate rhythm guitar many years ago.)   We paid money for something – I don’t even want to know what – called t.A.T.u.   Paragraph 6.6 of the report declares “…we recommend that the Government must exercise prudence…”  A flock of pigs soars into the air and wings its way from Lower Albert Road, over Tamar and across the water, past the herd of white elephants grazing happily on West Kowloon Reclamation, into the sunset.

Wed, 19 May
A quiet morning in the office, working on my 2008 election platform.  “I have the largest collection of
Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers cartoon books in French of any candidate.”  That must be true.  “I want to see a more compassionate, caring society.  It saddens me that people dismiss Filipino domestic helpers for forgetting to iron the newspaper first thing in the morning, when a good thrashing would suffice.”  That’s the bleeding-heart do-gooder vote sewn up.  My campaign planning is disrupted by a call from Ms Fang, the hunter-killer secretary.  “Everyone in the conference room – now!”  I stroll down the corridor and enter the large room to find most of S-Meg Holdings’ management team already seated round the huge, good-feng-shui rhomboid table.  An air of menace hangs over the gathering as the Big Boss introduces our new Human Resources Manager, the seventh or eighth in my time with the company.  We nod a guarded welcome to Ms Leung Yuk-mei.  Approaching 50, she has short hair that betrays her background in the Correctional Services Department, steely eyes and thin lips, just right for scowling.  Disturbingly, she comes with a strong recommendation and an ‘even-more-ferocious-or-your-money-back’ guarantee from her vicious predecessor Ms Doris Pang.  “So, Ms Leung, welcome to the S-Meg family,” says the Big Boss, always nervous when a new face enters the company.  “Maybe you would like to say a few words.”

Ms Leung, unsmiling, stands up and says she is glad to be here.  She will build on Ms Doris Pang’s excellent work in instilling and maintaining the strict standards of discipline that lie at the heart of every organization’s success.  “If we do not maintain control and respect for authority, there will be chaos… turmoil,” she says, looking round the room.  “I hear from my predecessor that there are…” she glances in my direction, but avoids eye contact “…still one or two problems.”  She cracks her knuckles and tilts her head up slightly.  “I look forward to resolving them.”  The Big Boss fiddles with the ceramic three-legged toad that normally faces north to help bring in commissions from deal-broking, or something.  “Well, Ms Leung,” he says in a tone of contrived jollity and looking round at us all, “we certainly look forward to that, too, don’t we?”  Everyone nods and murmurs approval.  As we march out, I see Ms Leung observing my chest as I pass her.  “Nice tie,” she remarks coldly.

Flicking through the news late in the afternoon. 
Pravda – still going strong, I'm delighted to see – informs us that Hong Kong eagerly awaits a visit from Russian creature of the night, President Vladimir Putin.  I see little clamour in the streets for this, but it means ‘truth’, so I suppose we must believe it.  The old joke – there's no Pravda in Izvestia, and there's no Izvestia in Pravda.  Less surprisingly, an Italian former flight attendant who mysteriously speaks English with an Indian accent would prefer not to be Prime Minister of an Asian country of a billion people.  Good for Sonia Gandhi – know your limits.  The newsreader on the radio is still having problems with the name of the American-mismanaged Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib, pronouncing its main element exactly like the second syllable of Lewis Carroll's neologism ‘outgrabe'.  I find myself muttering at the voice coming out of the speakers in my computer monitor.  “Please, listen – the ‘Gh’ is like the guttural sound Beijingers make when you stroke their heads.  The ‘r’ is more like an ‘l’.  The two vowels are diphthongised.  And the ‘b’ is unvoiced. Understand?”  On cue, a guttural sound comes from my office doorway.  It is Ms Leung.  “You are talking to someone?” she asks.  I cut the streaming audio and point to the PC.  “Yes - there’s a microphone in the PC.  Isn’t the Internet amazing?”  As she did this morning, she eyes my manly torso for a few moments.  “I am coming round to see everyone in the next few days,” she says flatly.  “I will talk to you soon.”

Thurs, 20 May
“You look like you’ve just had several hours of extremely energetic, passionate sex,” I tell Winky Ip.  The shapely Administrative Officer puts on a show of examining her surroundings.  “Well,” she replies, looking back at me, “obviously I haven’t, seeing as how I’m in the Foreign Correspondents Club, sitting at a table with two bowls of congee, two plates of noodles and you.”  She grins and sips her tea.  “But if you’re trying to say I look exhausted but happy, then you’re right.”   Thanks to Winky’s tireless efforts over the last few months, the Government’s voter registration drive, which ended last weekend, has confounded the cynics who expected officials to perform the task with less than total enthusiasm.  “I thought we’d sign up a quarter of a million new voters,” she says, “but it’s more like double that.  Thanks to the political parties – they put as much into it as we did.”   Everyone was out signing up voters.  We are in for a tough campaign.  Nasty, even.  Dirty.  Already, there are rumours of voter intimidation floating around.  And outspoken radio commentators are
dropping like flies, with Allen Lee Peng-fei following Albert Cheng in quitting from the Teacup in a Storm show.  Lee has also quit the National People’s Congress, finding membership incompatible with independent, critical thinking.  If ‘united front’ tactics worked in Hong Kong, he would have ditched his mind, not the seat.  “Albert Cheng goes way too far,” says Winky – something Lincoln and May said last Sunday – “but Allen’s a good person.”  I remind her how much Chris Patten loathed him for backing Beijing’s line on political reform in Legco 10 years ago. She laughs.  Happy days.  “He has integrity, and he knows what he’s talking about,” she says, stirring chilli sauce into her noodles.  True.  Look at how the Liberal Party he founded has degenerated into a small heap of unprincipled, self-interested, opportunist slime since it passed into the hands of the ridiculous James Tien, the man born with a silver spoon up his rectum but not much between his ears.  “So,” I tell Winky, ”we’re in for a real election campaign for a change – spite, malice, venom, skulduggery, the lot.”  She nods and leans across to me, eyes widening, and a wicked grin spreading across her face.  “Cool!”

Fri, 21 May
Can anyone seriously doubt Li Ka-shing when he
says Hong Kong people have more freedom today than before 1997?  Certainly, the freedom to form cartels and gouge consumers has been upheld.  It follows that his monopolistic enterprises should be effortlessly raking in decent profits.  But wait!  What do I see when I glance at my share portfolio?  A splash of red at the top of the screen.  Stock number 0001 is underwater.  Cheung Kong Holdings.  Basically, Hutchison Whampoa, with all its market-cornering retailing, port and other operations, plus property development – a licence to print money by selling high-rise rabbit hutches to the Hong Kong middle class.  Any other company, and I would buy more and average my price down.  But this piece of junk has been underwater for ages and isn’t going anywhere.  Luckily, it is only a small holding and of no noticeable consequence to my overall wealth.  It is so useless, I am tempted to endure the excruciating psychological trauma of selling it at a loss. In the US, people think KS runs the Chinese military and the Panama Canal.  But we know better.  Is Li losing it? asks Jay Templeton.   Look!  What’s that in the sky?  Is it a turkey?  It’s Superman.  Wilting faster than a Park N Shop lettuce.  Yes – I will dump this rubbish the next time the market perks up a bit.

Oh, this country
sure looks good to me
But these fences are
comin' apart at every nail.